George Russell was robbed of a fairytale finish on his Mercedes debut which allowed Sergio Perez to win his first ever race in Formula One at a bittersweet Sakhir Grand Prix.
Russell, who was filling in for the coronavirus-stricken Lewis Hamilton, impressed while representing Mercedes but a pit-stop calamity saw him drop down the order late on in Sunday’s race.
Meanwhile, over at Racing Point, it was a race to remember for Perez and Lance Stroll after the claimed a total of 40 points with podium finishes in Bahrain.
But as the dust settles following another action-packed race weekend, these are the things we learned from a dramatic Sakhir Gran Prix.
Sergio Perez battled from the back of the grid to win the Sakhir Grand Prix on Sunday
Mercedes’ ‘colossal f*** up’ robs Russell of fairytale finish
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff did not hold back in a scathing assessment of his own team’s performance on Sunday, as he described Russell’s and Valtteri Bottas’ botched double-stack pit-stop as a ‘colossal f*** up’.
With Russell on course to win the race ahead of his temporary team-mate, Mercedes called in both drivers under a safety car to change their tyres for a fresher pair.
However, in a mad rush, the Mercedes mechanics somehow managed to put one tyre from Bottas’ set on to Russell’s car before sending him out, which then caused mass-confusion when changing the Finn’s wheels, squandering their advantage in the race and with the pair to make up plenty of places.
A calamitous double-stack pit-stop saw George Russell go out on a mixed set of tyres
The error meant Russell had to come back in for another pit-stop before a puncture dashed any hope of him finishing on top of the podium in his first drive while wearing the all-black overalls.
‘Overall for us, it was just a colossal f*** up,’ Wolff said.
‘I’m not allowed to say that but it was.
‘Simply put, one of the tyre crews didn’t get a call. We had a radio failure in the garage and when the car came in they didn’t know to change the tyres and had the wrong tyres. This is accidentally why we had the wrong set of tyres out.’
‘You can question that [the double-stack pit-stop] but I think it is absolutely the right call. Still, I cannot even watch these pictures.’
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff described the pit-stop as a ‘colossal f*** up’
George Russell is a future world champion in the making
With the pit-stop calamity aside, George Russell showed just exactly what he is capable of when given the right equipment to do so.
While many will point to the superiority of Hamilton’s car, Russell still managed to display superb driving skills to outwit Bottas and others with just two days of preparation.
Having got off to a brilliant start that saw him take P1 from pole-sitter Bottas in the first corner, Russell look comfortable while leading from the front – unfamiliar territory for a driver that hadn’t scored a single point up until this race.
Russell looked comfortable on his Mercedes debut and was robbed of a podium finish
He didn’t look fazed while out in front and looked like he would coast to victory barring any major hiccups.
But major hiccups did end up preventing him from a fairytale finish but did not stop him from being crowned as the fans’ driver of the day.
Having fallen to fifth following the botched double-stack pit-stop, Russell made light work of getting back to second on the grid, showcasing superb overtaking skills to get himself back in with a chance of winning.
The 22-year-old lays on the grass moments after finishing in ninth position
The British driver was teary-eyed after being denied a fairytale finish to a superb drive
And while another unplanned pit-stop and puncture effectively ended his race, the 22-year-old received high praise from his peers for a wonderful drive.
Having collapsed to the ground with tears in his eyes, Russell was gutted at the outcome but was applauded by F1 great Mario Andretti who offered some reassuring words over Twitter.
Andretti tweeted: ‘Keep your head hi @GeorgeRussell63, you drove like a champion and you showed that you belonged in that seat.’
Lewis Hamilton loses ground in contract talks
Before Russell had even stepped into a Mercedes car on Friday, many were questioning what effect Sunday’s race will have on Lewis Hamilton’s future in the sport.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton is in the final month of his deal with Mercedes and is yet to sign a contract extension, with the Brit wanting a new three-year contract worth £120million to stay with the German manufacturers and extend his legacy as one of the best drivers to grace F1.
However, there is still uncertainty over whether he will be granted a new £40m-per-year deal, especially when Russell has proved that he is a capable and cheaper back-up if contract talks fall through.
Hamilton is currently out of action as he recovers from coronavirus but Wolff has reassured Hamilton’s fans that contract talks will resume once the 35-year-old makes a full recovery.
Lewis Hamilton is in the final month of his current deal with Mercedes and is yet to renew
‘The timeline is being pushed back until he recovers,’ said Wolff. ‘We know that we need to get it done – pretty well aware both of us – but the priority now is of him getting back on his feet and being [Covid] negative. Then we will meet or Zoom in order to put pen to paper.’
Asked if Russell’s performance might impact Hamilton’s market value, Wolff replied: ‘No. We know what we have with Lewis and he knows what he has with the team. Such a situation would better be utilised as some kind of bargaining power, neither by him nor by us. Could go both directions.
‘I respect very much who he is and how he drives, his records, and whatever happens this weekend or next has no influence on our talks.’
Sergio Perez STILL doesn’t have a seat for next season
At the 190th attempt at trying, Sergio Perez finally claimed his maiden win in Formula One.
After being involved in an early collision that left him 18th after just a few laps, the Mexican was a man on the mission as he quickly made up places to get himself back into the points.
With a little help from the Mercedes garage, Perez managed to complete the superb comeback and get himself his first ever win – leaving him in tears as his national anthem played while on top of the podium.
His future in Formula One is in doubt after Racing Point announced that he will not continue with the team next season, instead sticking with Lance Stroll – the son of billionaire owner Lawrence Stroll.
Sergio Perez currently doesn’t have a seat for next season but has proved that he deserves one
With seats filling quickly, it is still uncertain if there will be room for him on the grid for next season.
When asked about his chances of securing a seat, Perez reiterated that a 2021 drive is out of his hands right now, but either way he will be around in 2022.
‘It just gets me a bit more peaceful with myself to be honest,’ he admitted when asked if winning the race raises his stock with teams for next season.
‘What happens is not so much in my hands at the moment, but I want to keep going so if I’m not on the grid next year I’ll be back in ’22.’
The writing is on the wall for Alex Albon at Red Bull
It proved to be another disappointing race weekend for Red Bull following the early retirement of Max Verstappen and an underwhelming drive by Alex Albon in a weakened field.
Verstappen was one of the favourites to win Sunday’s race but was taken out on the opening lap after he crashed into the wall through no fault of his own.
With Red Bull’s hopes all pinned on Albon, the Thai driver finished sixth which leaves him eighth in the standings with 93 points.
While he did show glimpses of his ability with several superb overtakes, time appears to be running out for the 24-year-old in a team that has been known to get rid of drivers if they are not meeting the high standards.
Alex Albon may be facing time on the Red Bull bench next season after struggling to impress
Pierre Gasly struggled at Red Bull after making the step up from Toro Rosso and was then promptly sent back to Red Bull’s sister team after just one season.
Albon was the man to replace the Frenchman but is now being given the ultimatum of showing if he deserves the seat or being relegated to the bench for next season.
While eight points at the Sakhir Grand Prix isn’t necessarily a terrible result, you can’t help but feel that the writing is on the wall for Albon.
Racing Point’s on point again with double-podium finish
What a difference a week makes.
Just seven days on from a disastrous Bahrain Grand Prix which saw both Racing Point drivers retire, Perez and Lance Stroll managed a superb double-podium finish at the same track.
It’s now become a familiar sight to see the boys in pink spray champagne at the end of a race weekend, with the Racing Point duo racking up plenty of points this season.
While their fortunes on Sunday were mainly down to Mercedes’ almighty collapse, credit must been given to a team that has seized the opportunity when it has been handed to them.
Racing Point’s 40-point haul in Bahrain has propelled them up in third in the constructors championships, leapfrogging both McLaren and Renault in what will be a final shootout going into the final race of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Racing Point drivers Sergio Perez (left) and Lance Stroll (right) both finished on the podium