After months of uncertainty surrounding his future in Formula 1, Sergio Perez has all-but announced while he deserves to be on the grid next year by winning a thrilling Sakhir Grand Prix.
The Racing Point driver was dead last at the end of lap one after being caught up in a collision which saw the retirements of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen.
But when Mercedes made a rare pitstop blunder which cost George Russell a certain race win, and the team another 1-2 finish, Perez pounced on the opportunity to snatch the race lead.
And when Russell picked up a puncture in the final ten laps, Perez’s emotional race win was secured.
The Mexican was one of the few drivers to make the hard compound work after he pitted at the end of lap one.
He had been running as high as third but was tagged by Leclerc at turn four. With the two skating across the circuit, Verstappen, rather bizarrely, drove straight on and across the gravel before crashing into the barrier.
Using the sheer grunt of his Mercedes power unit, he soon swiftly made his up to fifth before being mired in the wake of Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz.
However, Nicholas Latifi then peeled off the circuit with a terminal engine fault which led to the race’s first virtual safety car. A small batch of drivers looked to use the opportunity to box for a new set of tyres, including Ricciardo and Sainz.
But when the VSC was ended shortly after, the Renault and McLaren were poorly hurt. They were relegated behind Perez for the final spot on the podium.
Four laps later and the race was naturalised once again, this time under a full safety car to recover an errant front wing of Jack Aitken.
Mercedes brought both Russell and Valtteri Bottas in for a precautionary second pitstop. Still, they accidentally fitted one of Bottas’ tyres onto Russell’s car. The confusion demoted Bottas to fourth while Russell, who had to stop again, was now fifth. Meanwhile, the incident saw Perez elevated to the lead.
Russell soon dispatched Bottas with a wild move around the outside of turn five before lunging past Lance Stroll a few corners later to run third.
The Briton was substituting in for incumbent world champion Lewis Hamilton who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week, and he was determined not to let his best shot at a race win slip away. He set the fastest lap of the race and had closed to within two-seconds of Perez before picking up a left-rear puncture.
Thus, he was compelled to make his fourth pitstop, leaving Perez alone to take the victory.
Esteban Ocon finished second for Renault and scored his maiden grand prix podium, with Stroll rounding off a triumphant day for Racing Point by ending up third.
Sainz got the edge on Ricciardo for fourth, though it could well have been the win if not for the untimely safety car intervention.
Alex Albon made a late stop under the final safety car before working his way back to sixth. However, his main contender for the second Red Bull seat next year is Perez and yet another disappointing result for Albon may not be enough to secure his future spot on the grid.
Bottas fell away after using up the best of his rear tyres and finished eighth, while Russell still managed to score his first career points by ending up ninth.
Lando Norris completed the scorers despite starting last due to an engine penalty.
|Carlos Sainz Jr.