NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Sergio Perez Scores First Career Victory in a Shocking Sakhir Grand Prix

The Sakhir Grand promised to be one of the season’s fastest races. With sub-60-second lap times, the race went by quickly and was filled with as much drama as an HBO show.

Following a pair of horrendous safety car pit stop blunders by the Mercedes team, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez cruised to his first career F1 victory in what could be his last full-time season. This victory marked Racing Point’s first win under their current name, and first since Giancarlo Fischicella won at Brazil in 2003 under the Jordan name.

Around 11 seconds behind Perez followed Esteban Ocon, logging a second place for not just his first career podium but his best career finish. Completing the first double podium for Racing Point was Lance Stroll, holding off Carlos Sainz Jr to claim his second podium of 2020.

Rounding out the top five was Ocon’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

Alexander Albon and Daniil Kyvat came home sixth and seventh, with Valtteri Bottas sliding down the order to finish P8.

Despite leading around 85 percent of the Grand Prix, George Russell settled for finally scoring his first F1 points with a 9th place finish and the fastest lap. McLaren’s Lando Norris completed the list of top ten finishers.

Max Verstappen, Nicholas Latifi and Charles Leclerc were the Grand Prix’s DNFs, while Jack Aitken and Pietro Fittipaldi scored 16th and 17th place finishes in their debuts.

The Race

The weekend was a different one, to begin as the Grand Prix lacked both Romain Grosjean due to injures from last week’s accident and points leader and 2020 champion Lewis Hamilton after his positive COVID diagnosis. Stepping in were three super subs, George Russell for Mercedes – on loan from Williams, Jack Aitken for Williams and Pietro Fittipaldi at Haas all made their first starts with their respective teams.

Pole-sitter Bottas got bogged down at the start and jumped by Russell. Behind them, and for the second race in a row, carnage came on the first lap. Contact between Perez and Leclerc sent the Racing Point spinning while damaging the front wheel of the Ferrari. Verstappen found himself collected in the crash as he hit the barrier after catching the gravel trap.

The safety car was deployed and Perez pitted and found himself in last.

When the race returned to green, both Mercedes cars got off to an incredible advantage. Gapping the third-place car by around 30 seconds, lapping cars all the way up the 15th position.

Then, on lap 55 Latifi parked it at the entrance of turn 8 bringing out a virtual safety car. A few drivers elected to pit under the VSC, while Carlos Sainz got caught out by the green flag and lost a number of spots.

Aitken, who drove in Russell’s old Williams car, crashed out of the final corner on Lap 61, and the VSC was deployed again leading to a very uncharacteristic issue for the Mercedes team. Trying to gain an advantage under the yellow, the Mercedes cars both came into the pit. The Mercedes crew looked disorganized and ended up accidentally swapping the tyres of both Russell and Bottas. The slow and disorganized stops, lead to Russell and Bottas leading to having to pit again for worn tires.

When the race went back to green, Perez inherited the lead thanks to the mess in the Mercedes camp. With Russell wasting no time carving through the field, Perez’s lead increasingly dwindled as the laps winded down. On lap 79, Russell’s team reported a slow puncture forcing the Brit to pit from second and dropping him in the order.

Perez was able to pull away from Ocon and Stroll, finally scoring his first win in his 190th career start. As a driver who doesn’t know where he is going to be racing next season, Perez needed a calling card for his offseason and he managed to do the impossible.

Perez becomes the first Mexican driver to win a race since Pedro Rodriguez won the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix, and the first North American winner since Jacques Villeneuve’s 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix victory.

Well Done!

-A brilliant drive by Sergio Perez! After being spun and relegated to P18, it seemed like the day was a lost cause for the Mexican. However, the team dug in deep and took advantage of Mercedes’s bad luck in order to get the job done, never giving up, persevering and playing a perfect pit strategy. After the heart-breaker last time in Bahrain when Perez’s motor failed a handful of laps from the finish, and Stroll flipping over early on, it was a redemption week for Racing Point and Perez.

-George Russell has had everything go wrong for himself this season, and his first start at Mercedes sadly followed this pattern. However, there were more positives to be acknowledged than negatives. Leading the third-highest amount laps of any driver this season, logging both the fastest lap and the driver of the day award. Russell accomplished so much, that the result did not fairly show. It’s clear a star was born today in Sakhir and if Hamilton cannot race in Abu Dhabi look for Russell to score some well-needed redemption.

Tough Break 

-Earlier this year the Ferrari’s were the but of all the jokes, now Valtteri Bottas has assumed that role. His constant bad luck has made even the biggest Mercedes haters feel a little bad. His major pit road blunder leading the team to fit his car with heavily worked hard tires, Bottas’s whole day just kept getting worse. A P8 finish is still a points finish, but nowhere close to where Bottas should be running. This week’s antics were not Bottas’ fault, but it raises the question of whether Bottas will ever find his four-leaf clover.

Season Finale 

The final race of this bizarre 2020 season will be the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Both Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have secured the 2020 championships, so the race win will be the ultimate prize available next weekend. The lights will go out Sunday, December 13th at 8:10 am EST.

Sakhir Grand Prix Results (Sunday, Dec. 6)

POS

NO

DRIVER

CAR

LAPS

TIME/RETIRED

PTS

1

11

Sergio Perez

RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES

87

1:31:15.114

25

2

31

Esteban Ocon

RENAULT

87

+10.518s

18

3

18

Lance Stroll

RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES

87

+11.869s

15

4

55

Carlos Sainz

MCLAREN RENAULT

87

+12.580s

12

5

3

Daniel Ricciardo

RENAULT

87

+13.330s

10

6

23

Alexander Albon

RED BULL RACING HONDA

87

+13.842s

8

7

26

Daniil Kvyat

ALPHATAURI HONDA

87

+14.534s

6

8

77

Valtteri Bottas

MERCEDES

87

+15.389s

4

9

63

George Russell

MERCEDES

87

+18.556s

3

10

4

Lando Norris

MCLAREN RENAULT

87

+19.541s

1

11

10

Pierre Gasly

ALPHATAURI HONDA

87

+20.527s

0

12

5

Sebastian Vettel

FERRARI

87

+22.611s

0

13

99

Antonio Giovinazzi

ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI

87

+24.111s

0

14

7

Kimi Räikkönen

ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI

87

+26.153s

0

15

20

Kevin Magnussen

HAAS FERRARI

87

+32.370s

0

16

89

Jack Aitken

WILLIAMS MERCEDES

87

+33.674s

0

17

51

Pietro Fittipaldi

HAAS FERRARI

87

+36.858s

0

NC

6

Nicholas Latifi

WILLIAMS MERCEDES

52

DNF

0

NC

33

Max Verstappen

RED BULL RACING HONDA

0

DNF

0

NC

16

Charles Leclerc

FERRARI

0

DNF

0

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Tom B

What I saw was anybody could win driving Hamilton’s car. I still think Hamilton is a great driver, but his substitute took some of his shine away. The question is how would Hamilton do driving Russell’s Williams Mercedes?

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