Berlin, 7 December 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Sergio Perez of Racing Point won the Sakhir Grand Prix on Sunday for his maiden Formula One triumph, but it had looked set to be a glorious victory for temporary Mercedes driver George Russell before a pit-stop bungle.
Esteban Ocon of Renault was second while Perez‘s team-mate Lance Stroll was third in Bahrain.
Perez had been involved in a crash with Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Charles Leclerc in the opening lap and dropped back while the other two abandoned the race. Leclerc will lose three grid places next weekend in Abu Dhabi, the stewards ruled.
“I’m speechless. I hope I’m not dreaming…10 years it took me,” said Mexican Perez, who is being dropped by his team in favour of Sebastian Vettel next season.
“I don’t know what to say, after the first lap, the race was gone. But we just didn’t give up. In the end my pace was good enough to hold off George.”
It was a special moment for Perez, who missed two races this season due to a coronavirus infection.
Russell, normally a Williams driver, was filling in at Mercedes for seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton after the Briton was ruled out with coronavirus.
A chaotic opening lap saw Russell overtake Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who dropped from first to second.
Russell showed pure masterclass for most of the race and was barely threatened by Bottas, losing the lead only temporarily after a pit-stop but recovering it when the Finn also needed to stop for a new set of tyres.
But what seemed to be another one-two win for Mercedes ended up being a nightmare. The team wrongly replaced Russell’s tyres with a mixed set and the Briton had to pit again, while they also messed up Bottas pit-stop.
Russell then made a superb effort to get past Bottas and two other drivers and start chasing Perez for the lead. But the Briton’s hopes went up into dust due to a rear-left puncture and another pit-stop.
Russell finished ninth after getting ahead of Lando Norris in the final lap and also had the fastest lap meaning the 22-year-old collected F1 points for the first time in his career.
But the tyre incident is yet to be investigated.
“Guys. I don’t know what to say,” Russell said over the radio. “That was taken away from us twice. Honestly. It’s been a pleasure and I’ve loved it and honestly, I’m gutted. I’m absolutely gutted. But we’ll get this opportunity again. I hope we get this opportunity again. Thank you.”
Mercedes say there is no question of Russell replacing Bottas next season despite his amazing weekend in a new car, which is so far ahead of the rest that a driver not used to its feel can still excel.
Ocon celebrated the first time he has stood on the podium.
“I have no words. I cried on the line, that’s how much emotion there was inside,” the Frenchman said.
“It’s been a tough season, but we never stopped pushing. When there are less and less people believing in you, you have to believe in yourself,” Ocon added.
With Perez‘s win and Stroll third, Racing Point took an important step in the fight for third place in the constructors’ championship, already won by Mercedes.
“Amazing race for the team. A part of me is a little disappointed, I could have won – I went too deep on the pit exit and got passed by Esteban,” Stroll said.
“But it’s a fantastic result for the team – first and third is what we needed for the championship.”
Carloz Sainz of McLaren finished fourth followed by Daniel Ricciardo (Renault), Alex Albon (Red Bull) and Daniil Kvyat (Alpha Tauri), while Bottas was eighth.
The Formula One season heads to Abu Dhabi next weekend for the big finale. Romain Grosjean, who survived a major crash last Sunday, is out while Hamilton is yet to be confirmed.