The exultation and heartbreak could not surely have been as stark or delivered in more riveting fashion than the high drama on show at the Sakhir Grand Prix. For Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez, there were tears of joy as he took his first win in Formula One, while George Russell put in the drive of his F1 career only for victory to be snatched from his grasp through no fault of his own. He, too, admitted that the tears briefly flowed, but his were tainted by bitter disappointment.
The flag belonged to Pérez – who has no drive for 2021 – and he was a hugely popular winner, the first Mexican to win an F1 race since Pedro Rodríguez did so in Belgium in 1970. Esteban Ocon was second for Renault and Pérez’s teammate Lance Stroll third.
Pérez is being replaced at Racing Point by Sebastian Vettel but he may yet be given a drive for Red Bull next season. He delivered notice here why his absence from the sport would be a travesty. Yet the day was so nearly Russell’s as the wheels came off the usually metronomic Mercedes machine – inducing some frank language from the team principal, Toto Wolff, about a “colossal” error.
Lewis Hamilton would surely have recognised the hallmark’s of Russell’s controlled, composed and dominant drive in Bahrain. The 22-year-old, who had replaced the Covid19-stricken world champion at Mercedes, certainly gave notice that he is the genuine article, unintimidated and ready to inherit the mantle of the driver he grew up admiring but was denied the moment of crowning glory. “Sometimes you feel like everything is against you,” he said. “In a situation like this, at some points it felt too good to be true.” And unfortunately so it proved.
Having taken the lead from his teammate Valtteri Bottas through turn one off the start line, Russell went on to exert a grip on the race that looked unshakeable. He opened a gap and held it; he was on a flawless run when it fell apart. Late in the race an exceptionally rare Mercedes pit-stop error cost Russell what was a highly likely win. While leading the team pitted him under the safety car on lap 63 but put on mixed tyres, with one belonging to Bottas. Russell was forced to come in again a lap later to take his full set and emerged in fifth behind Bottas, while Pérez had the lead. Mercedes have been fined €20,000 (£18,000).
When racing resumed Russell had 18 laps to make up the difference. The British driver made a magnificent charge, starting with a bravura move past Bottas round the outside of turn six. Stroll fell one lap later and Ocon in one further still. He was three seconds down on Pérez with 13 laps remaining and pumping in fastest laps when his luck deserted him a second time, a rear-left puncture forcing another stop. The fairytale was over. His first Formula One points finish in ninth place was cold comfort; there will surely be another chance but this was heartbreaking stuff.
“I am gutted, I am absolutely gutted,” he said. “I can’t put it into words, it was not a nice feeling jumping out of the car. I gave it everything I had, I felt confident, comfortable, then we had the muddle up in the pit stop, but I could still have caught Sergio, then there was the puncture. I am gutted.”
Wolff nonetheless recognised his achievement, describing him as driving a “monumental race” and saying that a “new star is born today”.
Pérez had nonetheless fully earned his plaudits after a long career. His first win comes in his 10th season in the sport. He made his debut for Sauber in 2011, did one season with McLaren in 2013 and then joined Racing Point, then known as Force India in 2014. He has been with the team ever since. It could not be more poignant – it is the first win the Silverstone-based team have scored since they were Jordan in 2003, but they have already bid him farewell for 2021.
“I am speechless,” he said. “I hope I am not dreaming because I dream for so many years being in this moment. Ten years it took me. I don’t know what to say. After the first lap, the race it was gone. It was all about not giving up.”
Pérez had tangled with Charles Leclerc on lap one and taken a big hit to the rear of the car dropping him to the back of the field. Yet he fought back with typical gusto, came through the field and when Mercedes dropped the ball he had the chance and seized it. Cruel, celebratory and simply unmissable, Sakhir had it all.
Earlier in the day Michael Schumacher’s son Mick, who has been signed to drive for Haas in F1 next year, won the F2 championship, securing the title by 14 points from Britain’s Callum Illot.
Haas have confirmed that Romain Grosjean, who was involved in a huge accident at the previous round, will not risk his recovery from the burns to his hands and so will not take part in the final GP of the season next week in Abu Dhabi.
Carlos Sainz was fourth for McLaren with his teammate Lance Norris in 10th. Daniel Ricciardo was in fifth for Renault with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon in sixth. Daniil Kvyat was in seventh for AlphaTauri with Bottas eighth.