Monday, November 30, 2020 Romain Grosjean, through a video posted on Instagram, reassures everyone about his health conditions after the terrible accident that saw him protagonist in the Bahrain Grand Prix:
"Hi everyone, I just wanted to tell you that I'm fine, more or less! Thank you so much for the messages. I was against the introduction of the Halo a few years ago, but I think it is the best thing that has been introduced in Formula 1. Without the Halo I wouldn't be here to talk to you. Thanks to the doctors, those at the track and in the hospital. I hope I can get back writing soon to update you".
Grosjean, who will be replaced by Fittipaldi in the next Grand Prix, spent a peaceful night in the hospital. In the meantime, his wife wanted to write him a letter on Twitter. These are the words of Marion Jollès:
"You are a superhero. Obviously I couldn't sleep last night. And to be honest, I don't even know what to write. I just know that doing it makes me feel good. It's always helped me. Anyway, I'm not going to lie and I admit that I don't find words easily. This is something that will make him smile, since he knows how talkative I am. I didn't even know which picture to post. In the end I chose, a little stupidly, the one where we both wear the title shirt in GP2. Although I would have preferred it to say superhero instead of champion, since that's how I explained the unexplainable to our kids. I talked about a shield of love that protected him. I say thanks to our children, who pushed him out of the fire. It didn't take a miracle, it took several".
The images of the frightening accident that involved the Haas driver in the first corners of the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix have gone around the world. The single-seater literally split in two, catching fire on impact with the barriers. What could have been a tragedy ended in a miraculous escape when Grosjean was seen coming out of the flames, jumping over the barrier and, helped by doctors and stewards, getting into an ambulance to receive medical treatment.
In 1974, the Austrian driver Helmuth Koinigg suffered of a similar accident during the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Koinigg was not as lucky as Grosjean and died instantly. What made the difference in Bahrain was a safety device called halo, which consists of a curved bar placed to protect the driver's head. Since the 2018 season, the FIA has made the halo mandatory in every Formula 1 car and the value of the system now seems clear despite initial criticism.
"I've seen death in the face, without the halo I wouldn't be here. Seeing myself completely enveloped in flames made me think of Niki Lauda's accident, I didn't want to have the same consequences as him. I thought about my children and my parents, I didn't want to leave them. The only thing I could do was get out of the car".
Tuesday, December 1, 2020, exactly two days after the terrible accident that saw him involved at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix and that could have very nearly cost him dearly, Romain Grosjean confesses in an interview with TF1 and reported by L'Equipe:
"I don't know if it was a miracle, whether this word exists or not, it certainly wasn't my moment, those twenty seconds seemed very long to me. My little son, Simon, who is five, says that I have a magical power, a shield of love that has protected me and allowed me to save myself. Sacha is seven and is more rational, trying to understand what happened. I was more afraid for my loved ones, for my children who are obviously my biggest source of pride and energy, than for me".
With a clearer mind, the French driver retraces those moments between life and death:
"I saw my visor all orange, I could see the flames on the left side of the car. I put my hands on the fire and then I felt that someone was pulling my suit, so I knew I was out. For me coming out of those flames was almost like a second birth, a moment that will mark my life forever. Obviously my time had not yet come, Jules Bianchi did not want me up there with him yet. I never lost consciousness, I immediately took off my seatbelt, and then I realized that the steering wheel was not there, perhaps it had come off during the impact".
Fear passed, Grosjean also manages to joke about the burns he suffered in the impact:
"I have Mickey Mouse hands, but otherwise everything is going well".
The return to the track can wait, also because:
"There will be some psychological work to do because I really saw death in the face. I think that not even Hollywood could film those images, it was the biggest accident I've ever seen in my life, with the car that caught fire and exploded. Now there is a feeling in me to be happy to be alive, to see things differently. But I also feel the need to get back in the car, if possible in Abu Dhabi, to end my story with Formula 1 in a different way from this one".
Meanwhile, the French driver thanks for the messages of affection:
"There are many people who have shown me their love in these days, manifestations that have touched me a lot and that bring tears to my eyes".
And speaking of his future, he admits that he has no intention of quitting:
"Coming back quickly is also important for my future: I have to prove to the teams interested in me that I am still able to drive".
The next day Romain returned to recount those twenty-eight seconds in which he went from death to life:
"To me it felt like many more, at least a minute and a half. Am I a hero? No, the doctors who save lives are. If I drive back to Abu Dhabi next week? I'd like to, maybe to end my career by passing a less dramatic finish line than last Sunday. But if I can't, I'll have others to cross in life. If I get back in the car, I know my family members think I'm doing it out of selfishness. The thing is, it's not important what happened to me and what I went through, since it's my job, but if there's one thing that hurts me, that makes me cry, it's making them suffer".
What goes through the mind of a man imprisoned in sheet metal and wrapped in fire?
"To not end up like Niki Lauda, my favorite driver. Yet for a moment I felt so relaxed, so at peace with myself, that I thought I might die. I saw death and I gave it a name: Benoit, don't ask me why, but I needed to give it a name. Because right after that I thought: I can't die today, that's why I tried to get out, I survived thinking about my children who didn't deserve to lose their daddy".
Hands bandaged for the burns suffered, slightly limping, Romain tells - smiling - these junctures in videoconference from Bahrain, where shortly after the Haas driver returns to the paddock to be seen and thank all the staff of the federation that helped him and his colleagues to give proof of his survival:
"When the car stopped, I opened my eyes and immediately unbuckled my seatbelt. The thing I didn't remember is what I did with the steering wheel because I don't remember taking it off. The team told me no, the steering wheel had gone in between my legs, broke and slid down. I didn't have to worry about it, so I tried to jump out. But I felt that something was touching my head, so I sat back in the car and my first thought was: I will wait, someone will come and help me".
But Romain, who remained conscious, didn't immediately notice that there was fire around him and he was enveloped in flames. The visor and helmet held up, but the films of the visor melted.
"I could see red but I was thinking sunset or track lights. But then turning my head left and right I see fire. Then I realize I can't wait. I move, but I feel stuck, I reside in the seat and my body starts to relax. It was the least pleasant moment, I felt at peace with myself and thought I was going to die. I asked myself, will this be painful? Where will the pain start? That's where I shook myself, I don't know why but I turned my helmet to the left, went up and tried to turn my shoulder which in fact came out of the Halo. But my left foot was stuck under the pedal. I pulled harder, the foot came off and the shoe stayed in there. My gloves are normally red but I notice that, especially the left one, they are changing color, starting to melt and turn black. I feel the pain in my hands, but I'm out. I step up onto the barriers and hear medic Ian Robert pulling on my suit. I realize that someone is there and that I am safe. Although I think I'm wrapped in a fireball like in a video the federation showed us in a test. I quickly take off my gloves because I'm afraid the skin is melting and sticking to the gloves. I say my hands are burnt and one foot is broken, the pain was severe".
Everyone sees those images, sent over and over again on screens. Romain thinks about it on camera, so much so that he refuses to go on the stretcher right away, he wants to walk supported by rescuers to alert the world, and especially his family, that he is safe.
"I think medically it wasn't the ideal decision, but they understood that it was critical for me. I needed to send another strong message. The insistence on replays? I'm not against it, it served to testify that I had survived and then Formula 1 has its own needs, including that of showing that what happens is not a fake, it is not imagination, my accident was on the front pages of newspapers around the world. This is the full story of the twenty-eight seconds. As you can tell, it felt like a lot longer to me with all the thoughts I had. The body will recover. I have a very high pain threshold; I haven't told anyone but this year I broke my right arm slipping at home on the kitchen floor. Mentally, I've been followed by a psychologist for eight years now and even these days we're talking about acting fast and avoiding the typical post-traumatic consequences, flashbacks and things like that. As for going back to racing, it won't be the Abu Dhabi race that will change my life but the fact that I will be able to live the rest of my life in a normal way".
Speaking of his wife Marion, who went to Abu Dhabi the night of the accident, and their three children, the French driver admits:
"It was only when she came and hugged me that she knew I was really alive. My children send me messages every day: the eldest, Sasha, was worried that I would be all burnt out, Simon explained to his schoolmates the whole dynamic of the accident, Camille is still small and sends me kisses. For them I am a superhero. But it's not like that, the Halo, the protection I was against, saved me and I told President Jean Todt, only stupid people don't change their minds. We also talked about it with my colleagues who visited me in the hospital already on Sunday night, Kevin Magnussen, Sebastian Vettel, Alex Albon, Esteban Ocon. And then in that moment a survival instinct and a mathematical way of acting guided me. I was saved by the fact that I remained lucid, without panic, and it is a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life and that I would like to remain as a lesson for the future, I am ready to help the federation and anyone else to improve this aspect for safety as many others, for example in making gloves that leave agility in the hands but are more resistant. But as for pulling out of the cockpit, I am the king, I hope they will exempt me from testing in the future".
Romain does not have a seat for next season, but for now he is not worried about that:
"I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet, there had been talk of IndyCar, but let's see how it goes. If I never get back in the car, it means I'll be biking, kite surfing, being with my kids. I haven't had a normal life since I was a kid".
Romain Grosjean's accident, which has kept Formula 1 fans around the world in suspense, induces the organization of the circus to increase the security measures already in view of the new round of the season scheduled on the Sakhir circuit. Two rows of tires will be placed to protect the area where, shortly after the start, the French driver's Haas crashed. The set of tires at the edge of the track will also be extended to turn 9, from which the curbs will be removed. The configuration of the track, as expected, will be different from last Sunday: the lap will be 3.5 kilometers long instead of the 5.4 of the Bahrain Grand Prix with only eleven corners to run and qualifying times reduced to about 55 seconds. The FIA has already announced the opening of an investigation into the incident but it will not reach a conclusion before six or eight weeks. There is no shortage of criticism, however, including Sebastian Vettel's:
"It's good that the cars are safer than in the past, but the guardrail shouldn't break and the car shouldn't catch fire like that".
And Daniel Ricciardo, who did not like the televised spectacle of the accident:
"I want to express my disgust and disappointment with Formula 1. The way Grosjean's accident was broadcast over and over again, the replays over and over again, was completely disrespectful and inconsiderate to his family. To me, this is entertainment and they are playing with our emotions".
A few days later, exactly on Sunday, December 6, 2020, Romain Grosjean will decide not to run the last Grand Prix of the season in Abu Dhabi:
"I took some time to discuss with the doctors. For my own safety, I decided not to take the risk of racing in Abu Dhabi. It was a difficult decision, but it was also the best one for my future. I still don't know where I will race, but I want to thank everyone who sent me their love. It was incredible to see all this support during these complicated days".
For the French driver, his career in Formula 1 could therefore end like this. It seems indeed very difficult that he could be at the start of another Grand Prix. For this reason, Romain is publicly asking all the teams for the possibility to let him take part in a test session in order to properly close his adventure in the top category.
"I don't want to risk losing the mobility of my left index finger and thumb for the rest of my life just to race in Abu Dhabi. It would be a great story to end my Formula 1 experience next week, but if that's not possible I'll call every single team to see if anyone can give me the opportunity to do a private test in January, or even after, so I can get back in the car and enjoy ten or fifteen laps".
The first team to respond to Grosjean's appeal is Toto Wolff, who states:
"If we are allowed to, and none of the teams he has raced with want to give him this opportunity, we would love to fulfil this wish of his".
In the meantime, after the fear for what happened to the French driver, on Tuesday, December 1, 2020, the Haas team officially announced the signing of Russian Nikita Mazepin. The 21-year-old Moscow-born driver, currently third in the standings in the Formula 2 championship (he races with the Hitech Grand Prix team) that will end this weekend in Bahrain, is the first of two replacements for Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Dane Kevin Magnussen, whose contracts were not renewed for 2021.
"It's a dream come true. I really appreciate the trust placed in me by Gene Haas, Gunther Steiner and the whole team. They are giving a young driver an opportunity and for that I thank them. I'm looking forward to starting our partnership, on and off the track, and to continue to show my skills after a strong season in Formula 2. The team will await my feedback to refine their package for 2021. I will take responsibility and can't wait to get started".
The young Russian driver, runner-up in GP3 in 2018 behind the late Anthoine Hubert, has been in Formula 2 for two seasons, also serving as a development driver for Force India and testing for Mercedes last year. Mazepin, who started in karts at the age of seven, winning the Russian championship in 2010 and finishing second in the FIA world championship category in 2014, also enjoys a great financial fortune thanks to his father's estate, and this has certainly affected his appointment, as Haas - like other minor teams in the racing circus - is constantly looking for liquidity and partners. In addition, Haas confirms that in the Sakhir Grand Prix the reserve driver, Brazilian Pietro Fittipaldi, will take the place of the injured Romain Grosjean. Team principal Gunther Steiner explains:
"It was decided that the best thing for Romain was to skip at least one race, the choice to put Pietro Fittipaldi in the car was quite easy. He is familiar with us having been with the team for the last two seasons as a test and reserve driver. It's the right thing to do and it's obviously a good opportunity for him".
Pietro Fittipaldi is the grandson of two-time World Champion Emerson and will be making his Formula 1 debut.
"Above all, I am happy that Romain is safe and sound. We are all very happy that his injuries are relatively minor after such a serious accident. Obviously, it's not an ideal set of circumstances to have my first opportunity to compete in Formula 1, but I'm extremely grateful to Gene Haas and Gunther Steiner for their confidence in putting me behind the wheel this weekend".
This announcement is not a surprise, as the choice of the team was predictable, eager to complete the necessary budget to run in the following seasons; however, what is surprising is the choice to postpone the announcement of the engagement of Mick Schumacher, considered by fans the most important news. But it will be enough to wait only one day. In fact, the next day it is announced that Mick Schumacher, 21-year-old son of seven-time World Champion Michael, will make his Formula 1 debut in 2021 at the wheel of the second Haas. A driver in the orbit of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Schumacher won a career European title in Formula 3 in 2018 and is one step away from the Formula 2 World Championship. Schumacher will already have the opportunity to familiarize himself with his new team at the first free practice of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 13, 2020 before participating in tests scheduled for December 15, 2020 at the same Yas Marina circuit.
"The prospect of being on the Formula 1 grid next year makes me incredibly happy, I am simply speechless. I would like to thank Haas, Ferrari and the Ferrari Driver Academy for their trust in me and I would also like to thank my parents: I know I owe them everything. I have always believed that I would have achieved my dream of racing in Formula 1".
Mick had been called by Alfa Romeo Racing to take part in the first free practice of the Eifel Grand Prix last October at the Nurburgring, but bad weather caused the cancellation of the session. A Schumacher therefore returns to Formula 1 nine years after the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, Michael's last race in the championship. The German and the Russian thus come to completely renew the pair of drivers of the U.S. team that in recent weeks had already clarified the end of the relationship with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
At the same time, the list of great champions affected by Covid-19 grows longer: on Monday, November 30, 2020, Lewis Hamilton also has to stop. The world champion tests positive in a test carried out on the same day:
"I have mild symptoms. I and the team have taken all possible precautions".
To publicly report it is the FIA through its Twitter channel, then also confirmed by Mercedes:
"We regret to announce that Lewis Hamilton has tested positive for Covid-19 and will not be able to participate in this weekend's Sakhir Grand Prix. Lewis was tested three times last week and returned a negative result each time, the last of which was on Sunday afternoon at Bahrain International Circuit as part of the standard race weekend testing program. However, he woke up Monday morning with mild symptoms and was informed at the same time that a pre-arrival contact in Bahrain had subsequently tested positive. Lewis then did a further test which returned a positive result. Lewis is now isolating in accordance with Covid-19 protocols and the guidelines of the public health authorities in Bahrain. Aside from mild symptoms, he is otherwise fit and well, and the entire team sends him its best wishes for a speedy recovery".
The wait to know his replacement ends on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, as it is confirmed that it will be Williams driver George Russell who will replace Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel of the Mercedes at the Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain. Russell will be the fifth driver to race for Mercedes since 2010 and the third Briton ever to represent the German company after Stirling Moss and Hamilton. For the 22-year-old from King's Lynn it will also be a homecoming of sorts having joined Mercedes' youth program in 2017, where he also won the GP3 Series as a rookie. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff comments:
"We would like to thank Williams for their cooperation. It won't be an easy task for George to move from Williams to the W11, but he is ready for the race and has a detailed knowledge of the 2020 tires and how they behave on this generation of cars. He has done great things at Williams this year, playing a key role in their move up the grid. I am confident that he will bring solidity alongside Valtteri, for whom he will be a demanding reference. It's also a small milestone for our junior program, coming in to contribute to the team's work. We want to score as many points as we can this weekend".
Russell will be replaced in the Williams, in turn, by another Briton, Jack Aitken. The 25-year-old Londoner, reserve driver of the Grove team, is at his debut in Formula 1 even if he has already had the opportunity to confront himself with the FW43 on the occasion of the first free practice of the Styrian Grand Prix. In Formula 2 this year he scored two podiums and in eight other races he scored points.
"It won't be easy at all. In Williams I have known the car, the engineers and the mechanics for two years. But I will give my best, you can definitely count on that. Also because it means a lot to me that Mercedes gave me this chance, then they put a lot of effort to bring me in the race and I appreciate it so much. They made suits and helmets in twenty-four hours. Despite what happened, I don't feel any pressure, I just have to think about enjoying it. I haven't driven a Mercedes for two years, so Toto and the team don't have high expectations. On the other hand, you can't judge a driver from just one weekend, plus there's Valtteri who has put so much pressure on Lewis in recent years. They have been forty-eight rather intense hours, I must say. Toto Wolff called me on Tuesday at 2:00 a.m. and said: we want you on track with us, all while I was in the hotel bathroom. I got 64 messages that day".
George Russell's big chance is called Sakhir. On the Bahrain track, reduced to an oval, the 22-year-old Englishman will temporarily change team, running with the World Champion team. Never better than eleventh in a race in his two years in Formula 1, Russell has an enviable record: in the thirty-six qualifying sessions he has taken part in, he has always done better than his teammates Kubica and Latifi, testimony to the driving talent on which Toto Wolff has been betting for years. As mentioned, his replacement will be Jack Aitken, who chooses the number 89, used for the last time by American Al Herman in the 1959 Indianapolis 500, then valid as a test for the world championship:
"I'm absolutely over the moon. I will have the opportunity to make my debut with Williams and I am extremely happy that George will also have his chance to race for the Mercedes team. Since I arrived at Williams earlier this year I have really felt at home, so to have my chance to help the team try to get to the points is extremely satisfying. I'll be doing everything I can to prepare over the next few days, but I honestly feel like I've been ready since last March. I also want to wish Lewis all the best with his recovery and good luck to George who will get the chance to drive the Mercedes this weekend".
As team principal of Williams, Simon Roberts will add:
"We are thrilled to give another British talent along with George, Jack Aitken, the opportunity to make his Formula 1 debut. Jack joined Williams earlier this season and, despite the restrictions of Covid-19 has quickly become a valued member of the team. We are looking forward to seeing him work off his previous experience driving the car to see what he can do in a qualifying and race situation".
Team announcements in this period, however, have not come to an end: back in the summer of 2019 in Maranello after a brief consultancy in Alfa Romeo, Simone Resta is leaving one more time. The engineer from Faenza, fifty years old, responsible for the chassis area (his the very good 2017 and 2018 Ferraris), from January 1, 2021 will be the new technical director of Haas, Ferrari's client team with which in the next World Championship Mick Schumacher will make his Formula 1 debut. A move that takes many by surprise, after last July when the technical area of the Sport Management was reorganized to remedy a complicated season and a poorly functioning car project (but on which Resta had no responsibility).
The new reorganization depends on the need to make the best use of internal resources as well as to save money, since from next year the budget cap will come into force, the maximum expenditure ceiling (145 million) granted to the teams. Resta in fact will remain an employee of Ferrari on loan to the American team (from which he will be paid), which means that the wealth of his knowledge will not be dispersed. Resta's is only one but not the last of the movements within Ferrari's reorganization, which is thinking of reinforcing it with new additions, perhaps from other teams, to now flank Enrico Cardile, who will assume responsibility for the chassis area in Resta's place, with the task of managing and coordinating the technical and human resources directly linked to the development of the car's performance and design.
The rest of the organization chart, defined last summer with a vertical vision (everyone has their own recognizable responsibilities), remains the same for the moment: Enrico Gualtieri is in charge of the power unit, while Laurent Mekies, from France, is the sporting director and responsible for track activities. In the statement released by Maranello, team principal Mattia Binotto explains:
"The structure of a team like Scuderia Ferrari evolves quickly, anticipating changes. Starting in 2021, with the introduction of the new regulations, we will all be faced with new challenges that must be tackled with pragmatism and openness, as we began to do with the organizational changes announced a few months ago. This is why we believe that the historical relationship we have with Haas since before its arrival in Formula 1 is the basis for both parties to exploit every possible synergy, in line with what is defined by the FIA regulations".
Resta's move to Haas also underscores Ferrari's commitment to the project linked to Mick Schumacher, who is destined one day to drive a car produced in Maranello:
"Simone will have a relevant role within a team that has reaffirmed its long-term commitment to Formula 1 and that, also with the arrival of a driver from the Ferrari Driver Academy, Mick Schumacher has strengthened an already very close relationship with the Scuderia Ferrari".
In anticipation of the Sakhir Grand Prix, Pirelli offers a choice of C2, C3 and C4 compound tires, the same type of tires used in the previous Bahrain Grand Prix, as the same track is used, but on a different configuration. The Grand Prix, as mentioned, is run on a configuration of the Manama circuit called the Outer Circuit, never before used by Formula 1, characterized by 11 turns and a length of 3.543 meters. The last time the top category used a different configuration was in 2010, on the occasion of the first race of the season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, when, to honor the 60th anniversary of the category, another configuration of the track was used, called Endurance Circuit, characterized by 24 curves and a length of 6,299 meters, the longest of all the configurations of the Manama circuit. In the history of Formula 1, it becomes the first track to host Grand Prix valid for the world championship on three different configurations.
The race will be run over 87 laps, at night, to exceed the minimum race distance of 305 kilometres set by the regulations. It had been since the 1995 Australian Grand Prix (81 laps) that a race had not exceeded 80 laps in duration. According to simulations carried out, the expected lap time is less than 55 seconds. The time of the pole position (58"79) set by Niki Lauda on Ferrari on the Dijon circuit during the French Grand Prix 1974, today's world record, could therefore be beaten. The FIA establishes the first intermediate positioned 290 meters before the fourth curve and the second 10 meters after the ninth curve. The speed trap, i.e. the point where the maximum speed is measured, is located 158 meters before the first corner, as in the classic configuration.
There are also two zones in which the DRS can be used: the first zone is on the pit straight, with a point to determine the gap between drivers before turn 10; the second zone is between turns 3 and 4, with a detection point before the first turn. These are also two of the three DRS zones used in the classic configuration of the circuit, called Grand Prix Circuit. Finally, the Federation establishes the exit of the eighth corner as part of the track for the drivers to respect the limits of it, causing lap time cancellation. For this Grand Prix, the International Automobile Federation indicates the former Formula 1 driver Mika Salo as assistant commissioner for the race. The Finnish driver has already performed this function in the past, most recently in the previous race, also in Bahrain.
Friday 4 December 2020 George Russell, at his debut on the Mercedes, marks the best time in FP1, also obtaining the lowest lap time in history for a Grand Prix valid for the Formula 1 World Championship. The Briton, who has difficulty in adapting to the car left by Lewis Hamilton, due to his greater height, completes 49 laps on the short track of Manama, ahead of Max Verstappen, less than two tenths of a second behind, while third is his teammate Alexander Albon, author of a spin. Valtteri Bottas, the other driver of the Anglo-German team, closes with the fourth time, finalizing his work mainly on the research of stability for the race.
In fifth and sixth place are the two AlphaTauri, even if, on Pierre Gasly's car, one of the rear-view mirrors gives way, forcing the Frenchman to return to the pits, blocking the damaged mirror with one hand. Russell was again the fastest in FP2, with a time slightly higher than the one set in FP1. Also in this case the British driver is ahead of Verstappen, while Sergio Pérez is in third place. Actually the best time would have been set by the other Mercedes driver, Bottas, but the latter saw his performance cancelled after cutting the track limits at turn 8. At the end of the session he is thus classified only in eleventh place.
Pierre Gasly, after a mirror problem in the previous session, is hit by a stone to the hand, while Carlos Sainz Jr. is the victim of gearbox problems on his McLaren. The other driver of the English team, Lando Norris, manages to complete only a few laps, as the bottom of the car is damaged by a track excursion. Technical problems also occur for the Ferraris. Charles Leclerc completes only two laps, due to a broken driveshaft, while Sebastian Vettel does not have a good balance with the car, so much to be author of several spins. Despite the excellent performance of the two Mercedes drivers, team principal Toto Wolff shows that he is not satisfied with the results obtained:
"The long runs were not good. We were nowhere, we are not satisfied. Half of Valtteri's laps were cancelled because of the track limits and also George, compared to Verstappen and Albon, was not good enough".
But he spends sweet words for George Russell:
"You have to commend George, it was his first day. He did a great job today".
And he defends Valtteri Bottas, who ends this day with the eleventh overall time in PL2. Certainly not the expected result. The team principal, however, denies that the Finn may find himself under pressure because of the speed shown by George Russell:
"Pressure? No, not at all. His fastest lap on the softs was cancelled due to track limits, but it was such a mild exit that he didn't take advantage, and that lap was three tenths faster than George's".
So he denies the rumour that would like to propose a runoff between Bottas and Russell in the 2021 season:
"I have heard it, but it is not true. There is no runoff between George and Valtteri, it is also senseless to call it like that: you cannot make judgments from one or two races, no significant data emerges. If George does well this weekend, it's an indication that one day he will be in a good car. And, hopefully, that he will be competing for wins and Worlds. But that's a distant prospect, he knows: he just has to do a good job without making mistakes. There is no ballot, we have total confidence in Bottas. The 2022 driver line-up will certainly not depend on George's performance on an oval in Bahrain and in the season finale in Abu Dhabi".
For his part, George Russell comments on these early tests admitting that the track layout is far from simple:
"The track is complicated, not simple. We will all be close in qualifying, but in the race it will be carnage. They will be two complicated days. In Mercedes I found myself well, I work with the best. I'm learning everything I can, in the car and outside. I did some good times today but I don't think they were a true representation of the situation. FP2 was not good for me, especially with so much fuel load. There will be a lot of work to do. I need to get more comfortable with the car, make some adjustments, improve the set-up and I think tomorrow will be a different story".
Valtteri Bottas also admits that the first day of testing was not exceptional, and did not hold any great joys:
"For me it was a difficult day, in the first lap of FP1 I broke the bottom of the car when I went over the kerb in Turn 8 and a big piece was missing. So the rest of FP1 was a bit of a waste. It was hard to get the softs up to temperature - on my opening lap I started the lap and I had no grip. I think the tires were below the temperature window and then on the next lap they overheated massively. There is still work to be done on that. The medium tires seemed better. The main problem is getting the balance together during the lap in some corners I'm struggling with the front and in some corners with the rear. But we are not very far [from finding the balance], as my time shows. FP2 on the other hand went pretty well, I had done a pretty decent lap, but they cancelled it for me. Not exactly the best day, but at least the pace in the long runs was consistent. There's still work to do to get it together, F2 was an example of how messy qualifying can get, so we need to manage the gap from the other cars".
Before Saturday's FP3 the Haas mechanics are forced to replace various components of Pietro Fittipaldi's car's power unit. For this reason, the Brazilian driver is penalized fifteen positions on the starting grid. At the end of FP3, which takes place on Saturday morning before qualifying, Max Verstappen takes first place, with the best overall performance thanks to the use of Soft tires. The Dutchman of Red Bull precedes Valtteri Bottas, who takes his time in the first phase of the session, when the track is not yet perfectly rubberized.
Gasly, third, confirms the good feeling of the AlphaTauri with the track. Russell, the best of Friday, closes only with the seventh time, but the short length of the track means that the gaps between the drivers are very limited, so much so that Sebastian Vettel, fifteenth, is less than 0.8 seconds from the time set by Verstappen. The German's session is interrupted early for a problem at the power unit, which forces the Italian team to replace this component. Being able to use a unit already used, the German is not penalized on the starting grid.
Despite the doubts about the possibility that such a short track could produce traffic problems, in the first minutes of Q1 only Haas, Williams and Alfa Romeo send their drivers to the track. The first to lead the time list is Kevin Magnussen, beaten later by Carlos Sainz Jr. The Spaniard set the fastest time on Hard tires, before being beaten by Pierre Gasly on Medium tires. Charles Leclerc and Daniil Kvjat alternated in the lead, before the arrival of Valtteri Bottas (also on Medium tires), who stopped the clock with a time of 54"607, less than two tenths better than the time of the other Mercedes driver, George Russell.
The Finnish's time is improved by Sergio Pérez, of 340 thousandths. The Mexican is on soft tires. Lance Stroll, in the other Racing Point, beats Russell's time, but not Bottas'. Lando Norris, who climbed up to fifth place, sees his time cancelled, for having exceeded the track limits. The Red Bulls recover positions, with Alexander Albon going up to third, and Max Verstappen who, with 54"037, is first.
Daniel Ricciardo sets the third fastest time, while Pérez confirms his competitiveness, moving up to second place. The last minutes of the session see all the drivers back on track. The Mercedes now opt for Medium tires. In the meantime, Gasly comes back second, while Kevin Magnussen is ninth. Bottas drops under 54 seconds, snatching the first place, while Russell, third, is 256 thousandths behind his teammate's time. Only in the last few seconds Albon snatches the qualification to the second phase. The two Haas drivers, the two Williams drivers and Kimi Räikkönen are eliminated. Eighteen out of twenty drivers are however within a second of the session's best time.
In Q2 Carlos Sainz Jr. sets the first time, soon beaten by Leclerc. With the arrival of the Mercedes, using Medium tires, the ranking changes: Bottas sets the best time at 53"803, with Russell just 0.016 seconds slower than the Finn. Verstappen is more detached, at over 0.2 seconds, but he is ahead of the AlphaTauri duo. Pierre Gasly's time is later cancelled by the stewards. Bottas' lead is broken by Pérez, who closes with 53"787, while Lance Stroll is fourth, 0.053 seconds behind. Albon climbs to sixth, just behind Verstappen. Sainz Jr. is also up, third. Leclerc, who had used medium tires in the first attempt, finishes sixth, still using this type of compound.
For the last lap both the Mercedes and the Monegasque decide to tackle the track on soft tires. Lando Norris, looking for the time for Q3, aborts his lap; Stroll doesn't improve, while Gasly is sixth, beaten by Ricciardo's Renault. Ocon is then eighth, Kvjat seventh. The fastest of the session is however Max Verstappen, on Soft tires (53"647). Esteban Ocon, Albon, Sebastian Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris do not advance to the final qualifying.
In Q3 the two Mercedes immediately take the lead: Valtteri Bottas sets a time of 53"760, with a 0.212 second margin over George Russell. Shortly afterwards, Max Verstappen is the first to climb the ladder, with 53"591, just 0.022 seconds ahead of Charles Leclerc. The driver from Monaco, having no new set of Soft tires available, ends Q3 with this first attempt. Daniel Ricciardo also closes with an excellent time, just 0.008 seconds from Russell's time. The two Racing Points are close: Pérez is fourth, 0.207 seconds behind Verstappen, while Lance Stroll is only eighth.
With the second attempt Bottas reconfirms the speed of the Mercedes, climbing to provisional pole position, with 53"377. The other driver of the Anglo-German team, George Russell, also improves and completes the second row. Given the speed with which a lap is completed, the drivers try for a third fast lap, but the situation doesn't change, even if Max Verstappen limits his distance from Bottas to 0.056 seconds.
Valtteri Bottas takes his sixteenth pole position, while George Russell, second, obtains his best qualifying performance of his career. The pole position time (53"377) represents the fastest time in Formula 1 history set in a qualifying session, having broken the record time of 58"79 set by Niki Lauda in a Ferrari on the Dijon circuit during the French Grand Prix in 1974. At the end of qualifying Valtteri Bottas does not give the idea that he is extremely happy to race on this circuit layout:
"It was definitely a special session. However, I concentrated on my work. I didn't want to waste energy elsewhere. In the end I succeeded. In terms of strategies we did a great job. Being on pole is positive, I'm happy. It wasn't my best qualifying. But the goal was achieved. What the race will be like is a bit of an unknown. I'm happy to be on pole because I don't think there will be much room to overtake. We'll see. Hopefully it will be a fun race. It looks like Mickey Mouse's track, it's short and twisty with a bumpy asphalt. Let's see".
On the other hand, George Russell, who achieved an extraordinary second place in qualifying, is happy:
"Intense session, intense weekend. I had to get used to everything. I felt alienated at the beginning. You need a completely different driving style. I had to unlearn what I had learned at Williams and re-learn everything from scratch to make it go fast. I tried a few things in PL3 that didn't go well, but after the messes I had made I was already happy to be in Q3. I'm happy. Last lap I could have done better. I went close to the pole, 26 thousandths. If they had told me that last week I wouldn't have believed them. I'm enormously happy with where I am. Valtteri has given Lewis a hard time in qualifying over the years. On a statistical level they are very close. We know how strong and great Lewis is, so to be able to get so close to Valtteri with so little time makes me satisfied. Tomorrow will be long and complicated race, I will look ahead. In qualifying I'm more comfortable, you can give everything in a short time. In the race you need more finesse, maybe I don't have the experience yet. But we'll see what I can do".
He is undoubtedly impressed the team principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, who responds to questions from journalists by saying:
"We are impressed, but not surprised".
Toto Wolff recognizes all the value of the boy who at the age of sixteen showed up at his office in Brackley, introducing himself as a possible future Mercedes driver:
"He was wearing a black suit with black tie and had with him a power point presentation with which he explained to me the reasons why he should be a Mercedes driver".
Six years later Russell was able to get into the Mercedes, although the cockpit was not as welcoming as expected:
"It's too small for him, he's not comfortable. The steering wheel has nothing in common with the one he used until last weekend and even the clutch controls are too small for his fingers".
Faced with such a momentous occasion, Russell (another 6'1") puts aside any physical discomfort, which, however, presents itself when he returns to the hotel:
"The other night (between Friday and Saturday) I had to put ice packs on my shoulders, knees and toes. But I grit my teeth, it's worth it".
Before the qualifying session Russell started to feel some tension: after Friday's exploit, in which he had confirmed his leadership in FP1 and FP2, during the FP3 session he finished only in seventh place. So Wolff and James Vowles (the Mercedes strategy manager) decided to have lunch with their young driver to calm him down.
"I think at that moment it was important to explain what our expectations were and we told him that we expected a top-5, and I think that reassured him a lot".
A reassurance that undoubtedly got its result:
"I'm pissed that I missed the pole but no one in the team had high expectations of me, so in the end I drove relaxed and I'll do that in the race too. On the launch lap I looked in the rear view mirror too much to check on Max who was behind me and when I got ready to launch Valtteri had already taken off. I should have been two seconds closer to his car, and already before the braking of turn 1 I was 0.040 over the reference time".
During qualifying Valtteri Bottas did not want to take advantage of the slipstream that George Russell could have given him. In this regard, Toto Wolff emphasizes:
"It would have been the same even if Lewis had been there, this weekend it was Valtteri's turn".
For Russell now it will be especially important to pass regularly the first corner at the start, also not to make Lewis Hamilton nervous, who in the meantime writes to George, jokingly asking him to bring the car back to the pits without damage:
"He sent me a message with a very precise request, that is to bring the car back to the pits in one piece...".
Max Verstappen is equally satisfied, as he feels he has a great chance ahead of a race that could see him as a protagonist:
"We did good qualifying. The lap is short and with few corners. I'm happy with third place, I tried to stay as close as possible to the top. I arrived closer than usual, even if it also depends on the track. Tomorrow we will start with different tires and see how it will go for us. We have nothing to lose, we will try to have fun. We'll see what the result will be. Attacking Valtteri? When it will be possible I will do it. It will depend a lot on the start, but there is also traffic management. It won't be easy".
And equally extraordinary is the work done by Charles Leclerc, who with his Ferrari SF1000 takes an exceptional fourth place:
"A driver never says that he has done a perfect lap, however, let's say that I did everything I wanted on this lap. I'm very happy because yesterday we didn't do FP2 and FP1 didn't go very well, I still wanted to improve my driving, in FP3 too, but in qualifying... I have a notebook where I write down all the objectives, and I must say that I can be satisfied because in that lap I put everything I wrote down. And we start fourth, something that I would certainly not have bet on. Seb had tried with less load yesterday but we were not very sure. I tested it in FP3 too but honestly there was very little difference between the two set-ups, it's not that I felt better or worse, I think I simply drove better in one of the two laps. For the race I think it's the right choice, but let's keep our feet on the ground. Unfortunately when we start so far ahead there is always a lot of hope, and I am the first one to have it but many times this year in qualifying we did a better job than our real level, and then in the race we came back to reality, so let's see tomorrow, but today is a good day, so I want to believe in it".
Compliments to the Monegasque driver also come from the Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto:
"A very good qualifying for Charles, the fourth place is the result of his extraordinary talent, also considering the fact that he had practically skipped the entire second free practice session. We only have one small regret: not making it to Q2 on medium tires, which would have put us in a great position for the race, but Charles knows he did everything he could. Compliments go to the whole team on track, because a great job has been done both in the very quick replacement of Sebastian's PU, made for precautionary reasons after the FP3 session, and in the preparation and execution of the program of a very complicated qualifying session. Tomorrow in the race we will try as always to bring home as many points as possible: it will not be easy because the values on the field are very close but if we do everything perfectly then we can take some satisfaction".
It is of a different mood his teammate Sebastian Vettel, who will start only thirteenth in his penultimate race with Ferrari:
"In general I had good feelings, I don't know what went wrong, the guys were great to change the engine so quickly, which is clearly not ideal. We lost a lot in the straights, maybe more for the traffic than for anything else, but it was a disadvantage, and then in the middle sector I was struggling to find the pace. Today went better than yesterday, when we tried something that didn't work, we knew this morning that it would go better. The key tomorrow will be to try to avoid traffic and know how to manage the tires".
Sunday 6 December 2020 among the top ten of the grid only the two Mercedes use Medium tires; the other drivers opt for Soft tires. The expectations for this Grand Prix, despite Lewis Hamilton missing and the championship already closed in his favour, are high: fans are anxiously waiting to see the performance of George Russell with the Mercedes, after so many Grand Prix ran with the modest Williams. Following the tests, as well as the qualifications, there is no one who thinks that George cannot win the Sakhir Grand Prix.
And in fact at the start George Russell is the author of an excellent start, so much so that he immediately takes the lead. Valtteri Bottas starts less well, being attacked by Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Charles Leclerc also closes on the trio, impacting on the Mexican car at the fourth corner. The Monegasque goes off the track, accompanied by Verstappen: both are forced to abandon, while the Mexican makes an immediate stop, returning to the race in eighteenth position. The race direction decides to bring in the safety car.
"When I make a mistake I say it, I am honest in analyzing these situations. I looked at the video again. I was on the right of Max, but a little bit behind. I didn't expect Perez to come, I thought he was more outside in his line. I'm certainly not saying it's his fault, but I was surprised and I thought he was on the inside. I tried to brake but we touched. The clarification with Verstappen? He wasn't angry Max, I asked him if there was a contact between us. He told me that he tried to avoid Perez and he went long".
For his part, Max Verstappen comments as follows on what happened:
"I'm not angry, but this is frustrating. It's a shame to retire so early in a race where we could have done well. In the first two corners everybody was aggressive and I just tried to avoid crashes, but at turn 4 Charles was too optimistic. For me he is a great driver, I respect him a lot, but in that situation he went a bit too far. I don't think the Mercedes started in a fantastic way, I even braked to avoid a contact, Checo then took my slipstream on the outside before the mess of turn 4".
The race resumes on lap 6, with Russell leading the race ahead of Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jr., followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvjat, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon. At the restart, Sainz Jr. immediately overtakes Bottas, who was able to get the second position back. In the following laps Russell is able to increase his margin on his teammate, bringing it, at lap 12, to one second and a half. The classification remains frozen in the first positions, while Sergio Pérez quickly rises and, at lap 22, is already ninth, after Lando Norris' pit stop and an overtaking on Alexander Albon. Sainz Jr. stopped on lap twenty-ninth, as did Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly. On lap 30 it's the turn of the other Renault, that of Ocon. The classification still sees George Russell in the lead, ahead of his teammate Bottas, then Lance Stroll, Ocon, Perez, Albon, Sainz Jr., Kvjat, Ricciardo and Gasly. Ocon, already on lap 42, stops for the second time, opting for Hard compounds.
On lap 43, Stroll stopped, followed, in the next two laps, by the two Mercedes, first Russell and then Bottas. Russell, in his first lap after the pit stop suffers from a power problem, which is soon solved. After the pit stop the margin between the two Mercedes has widened to over eight seconds, always in favor of George Russell. Behind Bottas is Sainz Jr., followed by Kvjat, Ricciardo and Ocon. The AlphaTauri Russian waits until lap 53 to make his stop. Soon after, Nicholas Latifi has to park his Williams at the edge of the track. This forces the race direction to decide to impose the virtual safety car regime. Sebastian Vettel, Ocon and Pérez take advantage of the moment to make another stop. However, the Ferrari driver's stop is penalized by the difficulty in mounting the front left wheel.
The race resumes in its full sporting value, with George Russell leading with a gap of 5.2 seconds on Bottas; behind Sergio Pérez passes both Stroll and Ocon, moving up to third position. A new stop occurs on lap 63, when Jack Aitken spins at the last corner, hits the barriers, and loses his front wing, right on the line. The driver brings his Williams to the pits, but the race direction is forced again to send the safety car on track, for the second time, in order to allow the removal of the wing.
At this stage the Mercedes cars are called back to the pits, but a moment of confusion is created: on Russell's car are mounted the tires destined to Bottas who, arrived at the pits, first has to wait for the mechanics to finish the change of tires on the other car, then he finds himself with a tire that cannot be fixed. Finally, the mechanics put back on the tires just removed from the car. Russell, in order to avoid a penalty, is called back to the pits to mount the expected set of tires.
The classification now sees Sergio Pérez in the lead, who is ahead of Esteban Ocon, then Lance Stroll, who precedes the two Mercedes, with Bottas now ahead of Russell; followed by Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo. At the restart Stroll risks to crash into Ocon. In the first laps after the restart Bottas, in crisis with the tire temperature after the long pit stop, is not able to be incisive: George Russell takes advantage of it and, taking advantage of the new tires at his disposal, soon recovers the second position, passing the same Bottas, Stroll and Ocon.
The Briton arrives up to two seconds behind Perez, when he is stopped by a puncture that forces him to a new stop. He re-enters the race out of the points zone, which he recovers with a series of overtakes in the final laps. The Briton also wins the additional point thanks to his first career fast lap. The fast lap time recorded (55"404) represents the absolute record of the fastest lap set in a race in the history of Formula 1, beating the time of one-minute set by Jody Scheckter on Tyrrell in the 1974 French Grand Prix. But it is not enough: George is only ninth at the finish line. The young British driver, crossed the finish line, bursts into tears, while the team principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, apologizes to him:
"George, I'm sorry. You did an absolutely brilliant race".
Sergio Pérez conquers his first victory in the Formula 1 World Championship, at his hundred and ninetieth Grand Prix. He is the one hundred and tenth different driver to win a rainbow race, and it is the first victory for a Mexican driver since the one obtained at the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix by Pedro Rodríguez on B.R.M. Completing the podium was Esteban Ocon, at his first career podium, and the other Racing Point driver, Lance Stroll. This also represents the first success for Racing Point, as a constructor: it was since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix that a team, with a British license, had not managed to win. The last one was Lotus, with Kimi Räikkönen at the wheel.
"I'm speechless. I hope I'm not dreaming. I've dreamed for so many years of living in this moment. 10 years of my career, and it's incredible. I don't know what to say. After the first lap the race was lost for me, but I didn't want to give up. I made a comeback, tried to do the best I could. This year the season has not been lucky for us, but finally today the wheel has turned. I had great merit, Mercedes had problems at the end, but we had a great race. Comeback? I made a mistake behind the Safety Car. I had a bad blockage and then vibrations during the first laps. But I managed to recover in the second stint, I don't know how. I told the team that the car felt like a limousine. Really easy to drive with no vibrations. We had fantastic pace. I think we read the race pretty well today. 2021? First and foremost I am at peace with myself. What will happen is not in my hands. I know that I want to continue and if I am not on the grid this year I will definitely be there in 2022".
If Sergio Perez is over the moon, the same can be said for Sebastian Ocon, who manages to take a very important second place:
"I have no words. I cried at the finish line. That's how emotional I am. It's been a difficult season for us. Not always the work has paid off but we kept pushing and working with great motivation. Getting this result was very important. When there are less people believing in you it is even more important for yourself. Today in the end the hard work paid off. Daniel has been a fantastic reference point. His season, his second on the team, has been very positive. But I think I've progressed as well, I've been able to get closer and in the end I got this podium which is really extraordinary".
Lance Stroll, on the other hand, is disappointed, climbing on the podium again but with the knowledge that he could have seriously won today:
"Fantastic race for the team. I am disappointed because I think I could have won. There was a problem at the pit stop and Esteban overtook me at that moment. I thought I had the pace, also considering what Sergio did. I couldn't overtake Esteban at the end but I'm happy for the team. It's our first double podium, it's what we needed this weekend also for our championship. Turn 4? I made some miscalculations and I couldn't defend myself from Sergio. I'm happy for him , he has been a great driver for the team, he has been waiting a lot for this victory".
Like him, a despondent George Russell is understandably disappointed with the outcome of the race:
"I've been happy, I'm proud and I'm incredibly disappointed. There have been races where victories have been taken away from me, but for it to happen twice in one race is something unbelievable. I don't know what to say. Sometimes unfortunately races are like that. Satisfied with me? You name it. I came into this weekend not knowing how I was going to do. I know what I'm capable of, but coming in at the last moment is always difficult. But to get so close to pole and then be leading the race means we had everything under control. Obviously I'm happy and proud of that".
On Twitter, then, the young British driver added his congratulations to Perez:
"Nobody deserved a win more than him".
Toto Wolff, analysing what happened during the pit stop that prevented George Russell from winning the race, will say:
"First of all, it's nice to see a refreshed podium like today. I'm happy that there to celebrate is also Esteban Ocon, while on Checo [Perez] we can only say that he had an incredible pace. We fucked up colossally today. Simply one of the teams in charge of the tires didn't hear the call, there must have been a radio failure in the garage and when Russell arrived they didn't know about the change. That's why we put on the wrong set of tires. It was actually a safety stop. The pace with the Hard tyres was good and we could have stayed out, but anyway the choice to come back in was the right one at that moment. I think we did a good job, but there was a technical failure. It was not a human error. We checked it right after and it wasn't working, we don't know why, but these things can happen and we have to learn from it. Seeing Russell drive was very exciting. I've already talked to him. If you're in your first race with Mercedes and you should have won it for driving monumentally, there's nothing more you can say. This is not the last chance you will have to win a race. Today is just the beginning: a new star has been born. Lewis is the absolute benchmark, nobody is like him. The numbers say it. Today, however, George has shown that the new generation is coming up to his level. Only the sky is their limit. I think we'll have to see how Lewis recovers these days. The most important thing is that he's okay. He was feeling a little better today: if the test is negative, he will get his car back and drive brilliantly, If, on the other hand, the swab is positive, George will stay with us".
Finally, Wolff dedicates a line about Valtteri Bottas' race, which was anything but positive:
"I have to talk to him and his team, but he certainly didn't shine today".
For his part, Valtteri admits:
"It was a really bad day for us. My start was not great, I had some skidding and therefore a not perfect start. George had a good start and thanks to that he was able to control the race. The beginning of my second stint looked promising, I had a good pace and I started to recover on George. Without the Safety Car I think we would have had a good battle towards the end of the race. When we pitted under Safety Car, there was some confusion with the tires and my race ended there. I'm not sure what happened, but in the end I came out of the stop with the same set of old Hard tyres that I was wearing before. Obviously it was not an ideal pit, because I lost positions and I didn't have new tires, and this made the restart really difficult, as I lost more positions. It's always easy to criticize afterwards, but as a team we are one block and in these situations the team is always perfect. We will analyze the situation internally and see what we can learn from this. George did a great job and was just unlucky because he could have won. Overall it was a difficult day for the team, but we'll be back on track in a few days and I'll give everything to finish the season well".
Equally disappointed with today's performance is Sebastian Vettel, who admits:
"It's better not to talk about my race, I prefer it this way. I had difficulty in keeping the race pace, I just defended myself. The speed was not good at all, in fact it was very bad. Nothing worked today but I'm not mad at my team for my two slow pit stops. I feel sorry for the guys who will take all the blame in the end. I congratulate Perez a lot, I am happy for him but in the same way I am sad for Russell. I think until the time of the pit stop he did a great race, then I don't know what happened and why it went like that with the ninth place".
But Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, looking at the whole project that extends outside of Formula 1, exclaims:
"Leclerc's race was over after four corners, I think the penalty ahead of the next race in Abu Dhabi puts an end to any discussion. It's a pity that Sebastian didn't score a single point in such an exciting race. I congratulate Perez on his victory. Today is a great day for the Ferrari Driver Academy. Not only Mick Schumacher was crowned Formula 2 champion, but also Callum Ilott finished second and Robert Shwartzman fourth. In addition Gianluca Petecof triumphed in Formula Regional and our guys won 20 of the 91 races held in the various categories. These fantastic numbers are a testament to the great work we have done".
And it is perhaps for the best, as at the end of the race, Charles Leclerc is summoned by the stewards for causing an accident at the fourth corner of the track during the first lap, involving both Sergio Pérez and Max Verstappen, with the latter forced to retire, along with Leclerc. Ferrari's Monegasque driver was penalized three positions on the grid for the following Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Leclerc also had two points deducted from his Superlicense.
Mercedes was also summoned by the stewards because, during one of George Russell’s pits stop, the mechanics mounted one of the tires of the set intended for the other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, breaking the sporting regulations. Russell's mechanics had not received the message that their driver had entered the pits. Bottas was consequently fitted with a tire from Russell's set, but the team realized this before putting him back on the track, replacing the Finn's tires again. Russell re-entered after one lap to correct the mistake, while Bottas found himself on the same tires with which he had entered the pits. The FIA, considering that both drivers have been penalized and not benefited from the irregularity, decides simply to fine the team 20.000 euro, even though such an infraction can be punished with disqualification.
We are now almost at the end of the championship, but certainly the Sakhir Grand Prix was not an event for weak hearts. Without the presence of the champion Lewis Hamilton, due to a Covid-19 positivity, it seemed that George Russell's fairy tale would come true and instead, in the end, it was Sergio Perez who triumphed in the most unexpected way. Forced to return to the pits on the first lap due to a contact caused by Leclerc and returned to the track in eighteenth place, the Mexican driver made a sensational comeback, scoring his first career victory at the age of thirty. Perhaps the best way to leave the team that has welcomed him and looked after him for years.