With the respective titles won by Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, the Formula 1 World Championship continues its journey towards the final Grand Prix, which will be held in Abu Dhabi on 13 December 2020, stopping in the Middle East, in Sakhir, the venue for two consecutive races. The expectations for these last three stages of this anomalous championship are very low: in the circus there is the belief that Lewis Hamilton can continue to easily extend his streak of victories. For this Grand Prix, Pirelli offers a choice of C2, C3 and C4 compound tires. And speaking of tires, during the first thirty minutes of Friday's two free practice sessions, Pirelli will test next season's tires, as it did at the Portuguese Grand Prix: the drivers will have two sets of C3 compound tires at their disposal.
For the Bahrain Grand Prix, the International Automobile Federation designates former Formula 1 driver Mika Salo as assistant commissioner for the race (the Finn has already served in this capacity in the past, most recently at the Russian Grand Prix), and confirms the three DRS zones used in 2019, in which drivers can activate the mobile device: the first zone is established on the pit straight, with the point for determining the gap between drivers placed before turn 14; the second zone in the section between turns 3 and 4, with detection point set before the first turn; the third zone is established between turns 10 and 11, with the point for determining the gap between drivers placed before turn 9.
The race director, Michael Masi, places sensors on the outside of turn 4 to make the drivers respect the limits of the track, causing the lap time to be cancelled. However, at the end of the second free practice session on Friday the race director, Michael Masi, after having listened to the drivers' requests during a briefing held on Friday, will decide to abolish the track limits in this corner, having been thirty-three times cancelled during the two free practice sessions, establishing that the track limits will no longer be monitored, due to the presence of artificial grass and gravel, in this point.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was initially scheduled for March 22, 2020, as the second round of the championship, but, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the FIA was forced to modify the calendar, cancelling and moving some races. Immediately after the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix, the inaugural race of the championship, the Federation decided to postpone the race in Bahrain until a later date, and only in August repositioned the race to November, replacing the date on which the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last round of the championship, was to be held, moved to 13 December 2020. This is the first time that the race has been run in the autumn.
The organizers, on the eve of the Turkish Grand Prix, announced that the race would be held behind closed doors, as had already been the case between the Austrian Grand Prix, the opening race of the season, and the Italian Grand Prix, along with the first edition of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix and the return of the Turkish Grand Prix itself. On the eve of the Grand Prix, on November 26, 2020, Red Bull makes it known through the social channel Twitter that the sporting director, Jonathan Wheatley, will not be present at the event due to his Covid-19 positivity. Fortunately, as confirmed by the Milton Keynes-based team itself, no other team members appear to be infected at the moment:
"Jonathan's duties will be split between a number of other team members during this weekend's Baheain Grand Prix. The positive test has not resulted in the need to isolate other team members as a result of contact tracing and will not affect the team's trackside operations".
Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, after not being present at the Turkish Grand Prix, is also absent on this occasion and is again replaced by sporting director Laurent Mekies. The team principal announced, however, that he will be back to closely follow the team in the last two rounds of the World Championship, continuing a method that the same Ferrari manager does not exclude could be replicated next season. As usual, the Thursday before the Grand Prix is spent for interviews, and in this regard Toto Wolff, team principal of Mercedes, once again World Champion, presents his ambitions for the upcoming race:
"We witnessed something really remarkable in the last race in Turkey, with Lewis winning his seventh drivers' title. And the way he won it was spectacular. Overall it was a tough weekend for us as a team and a big challenge for everyone, but Lewis did a great job starting from sixth place to victory, cementing his place among the greatest sportsmen of all time. We had mixed results with Valtteri having a tough weekend, but we know how strong and resilient he is. He will come back stronger in the last three races. Now we look to Barhain, back at a familiar circuit. It always brings an interesting challenge, because of the variations in track conditions and temperature between sessions. FP1 and FP3 are held during the day but FP2, qualifying and the race are held in milder temperatures. This makes it more complicated to prepare the setup and collect data when it is most important. We've had some great performances in Bahrain in the past few years and it's a circuit that often provides interesting races. Both titles have been decided, but we are here to give our best and we will watch with interest the battle for third place".
With the challenge for first place in the championship over, and with second place for Red Bull practically a foregone conclusion, interest shifts to the fight involving Racing Point, McLaren and Ferrari for third place in the constructors' standings, where in the past the Maranello cars have left good memories. Charles, Leclerc, protagonist in 2019 of a race that could have led him to victory already at the second Grand Prix disputed with Ferrari, describes the track:
"The Bahrain Grand Prix is a very special race, because the characteristics of the weekend mean that the scenario constantly changes. At the beginning of the weekend the track is very dirty, full of sand that comes from the surrounding desert areas. As you turn, the asphalt cleans up and reveals its abrasiveness, which puts the tires to the test. Light and temperatures are also constantly changing: you start at dusk, with a very hot asphalt and the sun low on the horizon, but as the race progresses the circuit becomes colder and you need to have the ability to adapt your driving. I have good memories of last year, even though the finish was not ideal. We hope to continue the trend of the last few races that has seen us become more and more competitive".
Sebastian Vettel also focused his pre-race statements on the conformation of the circuit and its pitfalls:
"The Sakhir circuit has always been a challenging test for both drivers and cars. For those of us who drive there is the issue of the ambient temperatures that, since this track is in the desert, at certain times of the day are very high. As far as the single-seaters are concerned, the characteristics of the track emphasize traction and are a test bench for the brakes, which are very stressed during the lap. We drivers call this type of track stop&go because of the continuous dry braking followed by sudden acceleration. We have never raced in Bahrain this far into the season although, looking at the temperature data, the conditions shouldn't be too different. We've seen that our car has made progress in the last few races and I'm curious to verify our level of competitiveness on this track as well".
Remaining on the subject of Ferrari, the chances are increasing that next year there will be a Schumacher again in Formula 1. The son of the seven-time World Champion, Mick, leader of the F2 standings just two Grands Prix from the end, should, in fact, be part of the Haas team. The confirmation comes from the comment of the head of the team, Guenther Steiner, before the Grand Prix of Bahrain.
"We will make an announcement soon".
The U.S. team has already announced that it will change the two current drivers, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Schumacher, therefore, is the main favorite and should be joined by Russian driver Nikita Mazepin. Ferrari's sporting director Laurent Mekies, meanwhile, confirms that Mick will be at the junior driver test in Abu Dhabi in mid-December. The young Schumacher is part of the Italian team's junior driver academy, which has agreements with Haas and Alfa Romeo, but it is not yet clear who he will be driving for at the tests.
It should be remembered that Alfa Romeo will continue with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi next season, and Mick was supposed to drive in a Formula 1 weekend for the first time during FP for Alfa Romeo at the Eifel Grand Prix in October, but bad weather prevented the smooth running of the plans. Still on the subject of contracts signed for the 2021 season, Lewis Hamilton, who has come out against the possible salary cap for drivers ("We are the ones who give value to Formula 1"), has not yet renewed with Mercedes, but dismisses rumours of a possible future in Maranello:
"Racing with Ferrari? It simply wasn't meant to be. I remain loyal to Mercedes, my family".
Speaking about the challenge involving McLaren for third place in the championship, Lando Norris expresses his thoughts on the importance of ending the 2020 season with a triple-header, meaning three consecutive races:
"We end the season the way we started it, which is with a triple-header, and I'm looking forward to getting back into the rhythm of all these consecutive races. It's going to be difficult for sure, as we haven't had a triple-header in a while, but we're going to give it everything. We showed in Turkey that we are competitive and anything can still happen. We just have to perform at our best in each session and focus on ourselves. The Bahrain circuit, usually, offers the opportunity to duel wheel to wheel, with many overtaking possibilities, given the three DRS zones. Looking back at last year, 2019 was one of my best races, the one where I picked up my first points. Hopefully we can pick up some important points and get off on the right foot in this final triple-header".
While Carlos Sainz Jr thinks about what happened in Turkey:
"In Turkey we made a great comeback and, more importantly, brought home vital points for the team. Consistency is the key for these last three races. We want to get as many points as possible and will fight until the checkered flag in Abu Dhabi. Before that though we have two rounds in Bahrain, for an intense triple-header. It won't be an easy task, given this year's compressed calendar; but as a team we are prepared and ready to race. Bahrain is a track I've always liked and I'm looking forward to racing on these two layouts".
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal of McLaren, concludes the triple-header talk by stating:
"This weekend we head to Bahrain to begin the last triple-header on the calendar as this season draws to a close. We have three exciting and challenging races remaining, two in Bahrain, a special place for McLaren and practically a home race, and one in Abu Dhabi. Taking a look at the start of the season, we know what to expect, already having experience in terms of triple-headers. As a team, we are ready for the task ahead. Our rivals? We know how strong they are; our goal is to extract everything we can from the car, stay on top as far as reliability is concerned, maximize opportunities and continue to score important points".
On Friday, November 27, 2020, FP1 of the Bahrain Grand Prix is held on a damp track due to light rain falling on the track. Lewis Hamilton, the fastest of the session, however, captures a time more than a second lower than the best time of the similar session of the 2019 season. At almost half a second from Hamilton closes the other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, while it is detached by almost a second the third, Sergio Pérez. All drivers, as anticipated, test the tires designed by Pirelli for the 2021 season, both to look for dry lap performance and for a race simulation. The only one not using these tires is Nicholas Latifi, who during FP1 is joined by Israeli driver Roy Nissany, who takes part in the first Friday free practice session at the wheel of the Williams in place of George Russell, while Robert Kubica takes the place of Kimi Räikkönen at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo.
Ferrari takes advantage of the first part of the session to carry out comparative aerodynamic tests: on Charles Leclerc's single-seater a big rake with Pitot tubes and an HD camera is mounted, in order to film the flexions of the single parts of the extractor, also equipped with millimetric stickers, positioned to measure its movements. The Monegasque worked at a constant speed, between 150 and 200 km/h. Sebastian Vettel instead uses a traditional car, to make his comparisons.
The second test session takes place at night and sees Hamilton again as the fastest. The World Champion, also involved in aerodynamic tests at constant speed, is the only one to complete a lap under the wall of 1'29", preceding Max Verstappen by three tenths. The Dutchman gets his best time in the first part of the session, when the Red Bull Racing car is fitted with Medium tires, while he is not able to improve when he switches to Soft tires. Third place goes to Bottas, ahead of Pérez and Ricciardo.
The session is also interrupted, for a few minutes, following the accident of the other Red Bull driver, Alexander Albon. The Thai driver goes off the track, crashing into the barriers at the last corner. Shortly after the race direction gives the green light to the tests, the session will be interrupted again, this time for the presence of a dog on the track. At the end of practice, Renault and Alfa Romeo will be fined 600 Euros and 200 Euros respectively by the FIA, as it is found that both Esteban Ocon and Kimi Räikkönen exceeded the speed limit in the pit lane.
Between one test session and another, Ferrari makes it known that it has reconsidered its proposal to freeze engine development, as requested by Red Bull, starting from the 2022 season. But on one condition: that there should be power parity between the power units of the various teams and that the debut of the new engine should be brought forward to 2025 instead of 2026. In Bahrain, remotely connected to Maranello, Ferrari's team principal revised his positions with respect to the freezing that Christian Horner requested after Honda abandoned its commitment to Formula 1 at the end of 2021. The team from Milton Keynes would like to take over from the Japanese by revealing the project without having to invest capital to produce one on its own. An idea that at first had agreed with everyone except Renault and Ferrari.
"Red Bull by regulation can always count on a supply of engines from one of the manufacturers present in Formula 1, as well as we can understand that they want to continue with the use of the current Honda power unit in the future. In the last few days we have had meetings with Liberty Media and the FIA, and I think that as Ferrari we understand the situation. Therefore, we are in favor of evaluating bringing forward the freeze by one year, because this would also mean bringing forward the introduction of the new regulations on the future engine to 2025. This is not the first time that Ferrari has behaved responsibly in this respect, so as far as we are concerned we will support the freeze starting with the 2022 season".
A perspective that says at least two things: that Ferrari is confident in the advancement in performance of its engine in 2021. And that for the following three years the resources, reduced for everyone, can be invested for the power unit of the next regulatory cycle. In fact, Mattia Binotto, recalling that in 2022 the new fuels will be introduced, makes this point clear:
"The new power units will have to cost fifty percent less than what they cost us today. Achieving this goal, deciding what the technical format will be, is a very difficult exercise. From the point of view of sustainability we have to set our goal, which has to be very ambitious".
Also because on track, in the Bahrain desert, Ferrari seems to have lost again the goal of competitiveness and the good sensations recently expressed in Turkey, with Sebastian Vettel back on the podium and Charles Leclerc who, with the fourth place, had shown a great improvement. Instead, on the Sakhir circuit, where last year the Monegasque took his first pole and almost won, before being slowed down by an engine problem, the two SF1000s seem to fall back into the difficulties suffered throughout 2020: the German closes with the twelfth time while his young teammate even worse, fourteenth. Mattia Binotto admits:
"Yes, the start was uphill. It was a difficult Friday for us, the car is not behaving as we hoped. But we gathered a lot of data and I think we can do a good job tomorrow to improve it, both on the single lap and on the race pace, but also on tire management. Charles is the one who is probably struggling a little bit more to find the right balance, but this morning he worked hard in view of 2021. Small mistakes are possible, but they are also the result of a car that is not yet in place in terms of balance".
A feeling also confirmed by the drivers, starting with Charles Leclerc:
"It was a difficult first day. I was expecting something better because traditionally Sakhir has always been a very friendly track for the team in recent years. This weekend, however, we seem to be struggling a bit: at least we were in this first day. Usually though we are pretty good at fixing problems overnight, so hopefully we can work well tonight and come back stronger for qualifying. The aspects we need to improve I think are quite clear to us: I'm referring to the balance, as at the moment it's quite difficult to manage the car in the corners and I also made some mistakes. Also, overall, I did not drive very well today. The gaps between drivers are minimal, so anything we can gain will be able to give us a big advantage".
Then confirmed by Sebastian Vettel:
"Today in the first session we had sunshine, while in the second we lapped after sunset, however, perhaps due to the time of year in which we are, there was much less difference in temperature between the two sessions than in previous editions of the race. I believe that this year the Sakhir track does not suit us as well as in the past, but we still have work to do and there is room for improvement ahead of tomorrow. Looking ahead to Sunday's race, we know that the track is very strict with the tires and it's difficult to make them last long, but I think it's the same for everyone. It's not yet clear which compound works best, and consequently how many stops will be necessary. First of all we have to concentrate on the qualifying, then we will think about the Grand Prix, because if it is true that the points are assigned on Sunday, it is undoubtedly true that the further ahead you start, the better your chances are, since you can bet on more options of strategy and tire management".
On the other hand, Lewis Hamilton is more understandably satisfied, who also in Bahrain proves to be the fastest driver:
"It was great to be back on track; I love driving this car. Today felt more like a day of testing, instead of working on qualifying we discovered the tires for next season. This track makes the tires work completely different than Turkey, the difference is like day and night. Instead of doing a quick exit lap to warm up the tires, you have to go slow to not put too much temperature on them and preserve them so they don't overheat. I'm not too happy with the balance of the car, but I think everyone is in a similar situation since the track was slippery and very dirty. We have quite a bit of work to do before tomorrow to improve".
Valtteri Bottas, his teammate, can only hope to improve in order to counter Lewis Hamilton's record chase:
"Overall our day was ok, looking at our performance and feeling in the car. The first session was more complicated and I think it will be the same tomorrow because the temperatures are higher and there is also more wind. Both sessions were difficult because of the traffic and some mistakes here and there, so for sure there is room for improvement. I'm still not very happy with the balance, we have some work to do. It's hard to say where we are because we have done a different program than usual, focusing on the new Pirelli tires. I think the Red Bulls are close, they looked good in FP2. The biggest challenge is to not overheat the tires, which we definitely haven't seen in the last few races, so we have to adapt with the driving style. There are quite a few things to learn ahead of tomorrow".
The third session is held on Saturday afternoon, with weather and climate conditions very different from that of the qualifying session, which takes place at night. The drivers, for this reason, complete only a few laps. The fastest is Max Verstappen, who precedes the two Mercedes drivers, Hamilton and Bottas, and his teammate, Alexander Albon. Far away instead the Ferraris, that substantially confirm the difficulties shown the previous day and close the last free practice session with Sebastian Vettel at the thirteenth place, one second and a half behind Verstappen, and Charles Leclerc at the fifteenth, at 1.8 seconds from the best time, behind even the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi.
Saturday 28 November 2020 the first driver to join the track is George Russell, but he does not complete the lap, and returns to the pits. Therefore, the first to set a valid time is Max Verstappen, who closes with a time of 1'28"885. In the first eight minutes of Q1, this is the only time in the ranking. Then Lewis Hamilton lowers the limit to 1'28"343, while the other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, is between the two. Pierre Gasly climbs to fourth place, six tenths from Hamilton's time. The Frenchman precedes Carlos Sainz Jr., Sergio Pérez, Esteban Ocon and Alexander Albon.
It turns out to be in difficulty Charles Leclerc, who is only fifteenth. The Monegasque found himself in traffic, which characterized the central part of Q1. The Mercedes, on the other hand, who have no problem qualifying for the next phase, decide to tackle the track again, in order to better study the tires’ behaviour, especially the soft compound ones, in case of two fast laps in succession. George Russell makes a comeback to eighth place, Sebastian Vettel to sixth, before being preceded by his own teammate, Leclerc. Who does even better is Lance Stroll who, at the last attempt, climbs to second place. Shortly after Daniel Ricciardo gets the eighth fastest time, while Lando Norris, very fast in the first sectors of the track, decides to abort his lap, as he is already sure of qualifying. The two Alfa Romeo drivers, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen, the two Haas drivers, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, and Nicholas Latifi are eliminated from Q2.
Also in Q2 the drivers decide to wait a few minutes, before crowding the track. There is a three-minute wait before seeing the drivers on the track, with the exception of the two AlphaTauri drivers. When the drivers start to get on track, the McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr. remains stationary on the straight. Therefore, the session is interrupted with a red flag, in order to allow the evacuation of the car. At this stage the first to lead the time list is Verstappen (with 1'28"025). His teammate, Albon, is seven tenths behind, beating Norris by a tenth. Just 0.017 seconds behind the British driver is Sergio Pérez. Shortly after Lewis Hamilton scores a time of 1'27"586, setting a new track record.
Bottas is almost half a second behind the Briton, doing worse even than Verstappen. Four minutes from the end of this second phase, nine drivers have not yet set a valid time. Esteban Ocon climbs to seventh place, beaten by the other Renault driver, Daniel Ricciardo, who is fourth. The two AlphaTauri are also in the top ten. The two Scuderia Ferrari drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, Lance Stroll, George Russell and Carlos Sainz Jr., who could not complete a single lap in the session, do not make it to Q3. In the decisive phase Lando Norris gets 1'29"029, quickly beaten by Esteban Ocon and Alexander Albon. Hamilton closes his first fast lap in 1'27"677, with a time not dissimilar to the one achieved in Q2, on Medium tires. Verstappen, second, is two tenths away, and is able to better Bottas by 0.098 seconds.
Pérez is fourth, the last driver less than a second off Hamilton's time. With the second attempt Hamilton improves again, lowering the track record to 1'27"264; Bottas also improves (1'27"553): this time allows the Finnish driver to push Verstappen to second place. The other Red Bull, that of Albon, completes the second row. On the third row are Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo, followed by Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Lando Norris and Danii Kvjat. Lewis Hamilton takes his ninety-eighth pole position of his Formula 1 World Championship career. It also represents the 125th for Mercedes as a manufacturer. With practice over, Lewis Hamilton is thrilled with his ninety-eighth career pole:
"Wow, ninety-eight poles! There's always room to find, little areas to improve, but today I had a really clean lap. I don't know why, but I felt calm all weekend. I just wanted to have fun today, and that's the most important thing for me. I've been doing this for a long time now, but I still enjoy the challenge of trying to understand the tires, to refine the set-up of the car. I love what I do, I feel like I'm getting better each time. And as you can see, it's not just me, but everyone in the pits loves their job. The pressure of fighting for a world championship is huge, but with the titles both secured, today I just wanted to get out there and drive like I did today. Today is just a continuation of what we are achieving as a team. From weekend to weekend I am amazed by this group of people. Despite everything that has happened this year, we have always picked ourselves up. For me, it's important in these last three races to learn as much as I can and take it with me for next year".
Valtteri Bottas, once again beaten by his teammate, comments:
"My second lap in Q3 was good, but that's the deceptive part. When you feel you've got everything out of the car, but there's still some lap time missing. I didn't make any mistakes and my last lap was good, so we should understand at the debriefing what we can improve. Lewis and I chose different set-ups, so maybe it can be that too. But it's great to have another front row for the team. I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow. It will be an interesting race, with different strategies, and everyone will be careful not to overheat the tires. I think we can expect a good fight".
Max Verstappen, despite finishing qualifying more than four tenths of a second behind Hamilton, is nevertheless satisfied with his Red Bull's performance:
"Overall it was a pretty positive qualifying, with a pretty good lap time; it's a shame about the lack of rear grip in the low-speed corners. I would have liked to fight for pole, but it was not possible and ultimately it is good to start third and on the clean side of the grid. We'll see how we go tomorrow in the race, as it's hard to manage the tires here; hopefully we've made the right compromise. We have several choices available. Fighting with the Mercedes? It's always difficult to say and today they have definitely accelerated; we will still try to stay as close as possible, hoping to take advantage of some chances".
And Alex Albon was also satisfied with his car's performance:
"I am happy to have matched my best result in qualifying. I would have liked something more, but looking back at twenty-four hours ago we can be satisfied. Starting on the second row puts us in a position to put pressure on the Mercedes. I arrived in qualifying from FP3 with very good sensations in the car; I knew I could push to the maximum. Compared to yesterday we were very fast, but I miss the long run, so we'll see how it goes tomorrow. I will start with medium tires and the degradation will be high, so it will be fundamental to manage the tires. I'm sure for the fans it will be a fun race".
Ferrari, who results the most winning team (six triumphs) here in Bahrain, and who last year with Charles Leclerc had almost managed to win after his first career pole and in 2017 and 2018 had really won with Sebastian Vettel, disappears in the dunes: eliminated both in Q2, with the German eleventh and the Monegasque twelfth. After a red flag caused by Carlos Sainz Jr's McLaren, the two Ferrari drivers are also penalized by a wakes strategy that doesn't work because between the two at the track exit for the one and only last lap, George Russel's Williams gets in the way. But beyond this, the fact that it was a very uphill weekend for Maranello was already evident from the first free practice sessions, with both drivers struggling to find the right feeling with the car, but more so for Leclerc. But Sebastian Vettel is still confident ahead of the race:
"Having only one lap available is never ideal and this was clearly seen today in Q2. We missed out on the next stage by just over a tenth, but on the one lap I launched, first I found myself in front of George Russell, who prevented me from taking Charles' slipstream, and then I couldn't have a perfect second sector. This only adds to the regret because, if it is true that here we knew we were worth a position in the middle of the group, it is also true that we could easily be in the top ten instead of the sixth row. Having said that, I am confident that the team still has a chance to bring home some points tomorrow. The race, due to the characteristics of this track, will be played out mainly in terms of tire management and I think we can play a good role in this sense. We will have to be smart, patient and not make any mistakes".
Charles Leclerc, a bit regretful, also confesses:
"After this morning's free practice I didn't think we could have done better than twelfth position but, considering how qualifying went, I have the feeling that here and there we could have done better and for this reason I can't hide my disappointment at not being able to enter the top ten. Seb and I are the first on the grid to have a free choice in terms of tires but I don't think that will be a big advantage here: starting on Medium tires seems to be the best choice but also most of the cars ahead of us will have to line up on the same compound. It will be a difficult race, in which the tires will overheat easily and in which managing them will make the difference".
Sunday, November 29, 2020, at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the pole man Lewis Hamilton starts well and keeps the lead of the race. Behind, instead, Valtteri Bottas is author of a bad start and is passed by both Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez. In the meantime, in the back of the field a contact develops between the Haas of Romain Grosjean and the AlphaTauri of Daniil Kvyat. The French driver's car hits the trackside barriers almost perpendicularly and breaks in two due to the violence of the impact. The survival cell remains embedded in the guardrail, engulfed in flames. The driver manages to get out of the fire quickly, welcomed by the track marshals who intervened to put out the flames and by the doctor in the medical car who was following the line of cars at the start.
Fortunately, Romain Grosjean's survival instinct won the day, as he managed to escape death by unbuckling his seatbelt and jumping out of the wreckage of his Haas, which had been split in two and engulfed in flames. The driver from Geneva - with a French passport - survives with a lost shoe and small burns on his hands and ankles: the driver is transported first to the medical center of the circuit, then to the hospital in Manama by helicopter, on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask on his face under the eyes of the FIA president, Jean Todt, the one who has pushed the most for the introduction of the Halo. The race, in the meantime, is immediately interrupted with the exposure of the red flag. In the following minutes, it is Hamilton himself to declare the meaning of this race after seeing the replay of Grosjean's accident during the interruption of the Grand Prix:
"I am so grateful that Romain is safe. The risk we take is no joke, danger is part of our sport, we put our lives on the line every time we get in the car and for what we love to do. We thank the FIA for the progress we have made in terms of safety: thanks to these Romain Grosjean came out safe and sound. A shocking image to see, I am grateful that the Halo worked as the barriers split Grosjean's car in two".
Among the protagonists of Grosjean's rescue was the driver of the medical car, South African Van der Merwe, forty years old, who immediately rushed to the scene together with FIA doctor Ian Roberts. The Frenchman was grabbed by the arm and helped over the guardrail, then brought to a halt in the safe zone as fire extinguishers turned on him and his car:
"A big surprise for us too the accident, I had never seen so much fire in twelve years. It took seconds to realize what happened, it seemed like years. Romain got out of the car on his own, we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw him get out on his own two feet. Halo, barriers, and belts did the trick. A small change in any of those factors would have produced worse consequences".
In the first moments after the accident, in which through the television footage you can see the fire rising from the ground, Liberty Media decides not to broadcast any image, except then to show Romain Grosjean standing, in pain but walking towards the medical car. It is the French driver himself who asks the medical staff to walk to the rescue car, so as not to alarm his wife and relatives about his state of health. In the meantime, from the pits the drivers are hypnotized by the images that are insistently shown, after it becomes clear that the French driver has not suffered serious conditions as a result of the accident. A choice that will not be appreciated by Romain's colleagues, and that will be harshly criticized at the end of the race.
After a long repair of the barriers, the race resumes after almost eighty minutes of waiting. The drivers risk on the starting grid, on the basis of the classification drawn up at the moment of the passage of the cars to the safety car line, placed shortly after the start. Hamilton starts first, followed by Verstappen and Pérez. But during the first restart lap a new contact develops, this time between Lance Stroll's Racing Point and Kvyat's car. The car overturns. The race direction decides to send the safety car on track to allow the recovery of the car, from which the Canadian driver fortunately comes out unharmed.
Behind the top three are Alexander Albon, Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc. Valtteri Bottas took advantage of the safety car to change tires, but that drops him far from the top ten. The Grand Prix resumed on lap nine and, two laps later, Sainz Jr. passed Leclerc. The Ferrari driver, who tried to defend himself from the Spaniard's attack, immediately gives up a position to Daniel Ricciardo as well. In the following laps Hamilton widens the margin on Verstappen to 3.2, 8.7 on Pérez, 12.9 on Albon and 18.2 on Norris.
On lap 17, Esteban Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo, Kvjat and Räikkönen stop. The next lap it's Norris' turn, then, on lap 19, it's Lewis Hamilton and Alexander Albon's turn, who opt for Medium tires. This means that the Briton will surely be forced to make a second stop, to mount different tires, having always started on Medium tires. Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez also pit, on lap 20, but opt for Hard tires. Sainz Jr. pits the next lap, in which Albon passes Leclerc, for what, after the Spaniard's pit stop, is fifth place. Pérez, on lap 22, passes Gasly, and regains third position. The classification reads Lewis Hamilton, with a gap of 4.8 on Verstappen, 17.4 on Perez. They are followed by Pierre Gasly, Albon, Leclerc, Bottas, Norris and the two Renaults. Leclerc, who had changed his tires during the interruption of the race, stops again and drops to eleventh place. In the meantime, Bottas gives up a position to Lando Norris. In the following laps the two Renaults are both overtaken by the remounting Carlos Sainz Jr.
On lap 34 the two Red Bull drivers make another stop; both opt for Hard tires. Verstappen's tire change pushes Hamilton to make his second stop. The Briton mounts Hard tires, returning to the race still first, just ahead of Sergio Perez. The Mexican of Racing Point pits on lap 36 to mount Hard tires. He is followed by the two Renaults. The two drivers of the French team return to the track very close, with Ricciardo who, in the end, gets the better of his teammate. Norris and Bottas also stop for a second tire change. On lap 39, Alexander Albon overtakes Sainz Jr. for fourth place. The next lap, after giving up one position to the Spaniard, Leclerc switches to tire change.
At this point of the race, the classification still sees Lewis Hamilton in the lead, ahead of Max Verstappen, Perez, Albon, Gasly, who has not yet stopped for the second time, Norris, Sainz Jr., Ricciardo, Ocon and Bottas. A few laps later Norris overtakes Gasly, while Max Verstappen, who has a decent margin over Pérez, stops for the third time. The Dutchman mounts Medium tires, in order to secure the fastest lap, with an additional point. Gasly, who tries to close the race without any more tire changes, cannot resist, however, on lap 51, to Carlos Sainz Jr. The race of Sergio Pérez, at the moment third, was interrupted four laps from the end, with the engine failing and catching fire. The Mexican has to stop his car and the race direction still has to send the safety car on track. The Grand Prix ends, in fact, with the safety car.
Lewis Hamilton takes his 95th victory in the Formula 1 World Championship. The podium is completed by the two Red Bull drivers, Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, followed by Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz Jr., Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc. In the post-race atmosphere is not festive, and even on the podium celebrations are avoided. After getting out of the car, Lewis Hamilton comments on what happened during the Bahrain Grand Prix, starting to talk mainly about the safety issue:
"Today is a reminder to all of us that this is a dangerous sport. It was shocking to see Romain's accident, and I'm thankful that the halo did its job and you have to give credit to the FIA medical staff who rushed to the scene. For Romain to walk away from an accident like that shows all the work that Formula 1 and the FIA have done in their mission for safety. The images were really shocking to see. When we get into cars we all know that we take risks. I respect the danger, which is an integral part of the sport. But when you're in the cockpit and things like that happen, it's tremendous. I'm thankful the halo worked. The barriers cut the car in half. It could have been a lot worse. This is a dangerous sport. There are only a few of us who can push to the limit. What happened today shows how much the FIA has been on the ball to ensure safety. Simple victory? At a physical level it was challenging. Doing the start after the stop is not easy. I had to find my concentration again, it was complicated. The Red Bulls were fast today, I had to push to keep them away. This track is physically demanding. I tried to respond when it was necessary. Max pushed me the whole time, and he was very fast today. I had a little bit of trouble with the car slipping here and there, but I had enough to respond to Max's fast laps when needed. I was a bit cautious about how the end of the race would develop once Max had stopped, but I'm grateful to my team because they made the right strategic choices. To be able to get another result like this is a privilege".
And also Max Verstappen dwells especially on the emotions felt at the start:
"Departure? Scary. We saw the red flag but that doesn't mean that there is necessarily something bad. But then I saw the fire and that is never a good sign. Luckily he's okay, I hope he recovers quickly. The fight with Lewis? Yes we lacked pace, I tried to stay close, but they always had an answer for what we were trying to do. Maybe we were not aggressive enough with the strategy. Our pit stop was slow, it went the way it went. But second place is not bad. Next race? The layout with so many straights is not the best for us. But the car feels good here. We'll see how we do in the few remaining corners".
Alex Albon's mood is different, and it's understandable, after getting a great third place with his Red Bull:
"Of course, a little bit of luck went into today and Sergio had a good race, but we were able to capitalize on everything that happened in front of us and I'm very happy. The team told me that Sergio might have an engine problem and my first thought was in case of an oil leak, I didn't want to be the first single-seater behind him, so I stayed out of the way, but luckily everything worked out. Considering the damage to the single-seater on Friday, the guys did a fantastic job getting everything ready for Saturday and it's nice to be able to repay them like that. It was a good weekend for me from a speed standpoint and I'm happy with the result. I feel like I've improved over the last few races, even if the results didn't show it, but we took another step forward. Next week we race at a different layout, but it's very similar as a circuit, so hopefully it will go more or less like that. Like everyone else, I was very relieved to see Romain walk away on his own two feet after the crash, it was shocking to see again and the safety team did a fantastic job".
But the common thought is for Romain Grosjean, as witnessed by the words of many of his colleagues, starting with his teammate, Kevin Magnussen:
"First of all I'm happy to have seen Romain escape from that accident, it's incredible. To see him survive is frankly a miracle. I'm glad the halo was introduced, without it things would have been very different. The fact that his wife and children can see their husband is father again is a miracle we need to appreciate. That's it for me today, I'm just happy to have him with us again".
And Gunther Steiner, Haas team principal, adds:
"We were lucky today. The good news is that Romain is doing well, considering what happened to him. We are grateful for all the progress, in terms of safety, that modern Formula 1 has made to protect drivers. I want to thank the FIA medical car and all the marshals who were on hand to help Romain. There is not much more to add, we hope Romain will recover soon".
The group is joined by Valtteri Bottas, who, in addition to having words for Romain, talks about his race and the difficulties he encountered:
"I'm so happy that Romain is okay, that's really the most important thing today, and I'm relieved that he managed to get away from that bad crash. I had a puncture at the restart of the race. I don't think there was any contact, and I didn't see any debris, so I'm not really sure what caused it. I tried to make up positions, but it wasn't easy to keep up with the other cars. In the end, I punctured again, but fortunately this one happened under Safety Car and I didn't lose positions. I need to see what to improve for next weekend; the track layout will be different, but many of the main features will remain, so we need to learn a lot from today. I hope to be luckier next weekend".
Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, delves into the subject of the race situations that involved Valtteri Bottas and prevented him from expressing himself at his best:
"First of all, I would like to say thank you to the FIA and Formula 1 for giving us these incredibly safe race cars. Today's events show that introducing the halo was tremendously important. I would like to thank the stewards and also Dr. Ian Roberts and Alan van der Merwe, who helped Romain walk away from the accident. From what I know, Romain is fine and I wish him the best recovery possible and I hope his family is okay, despite having seen these frightening images. For our team, it was a bittersweet race; on the one hand, I am very happy for the team and Lewis. The car was strong today and the strategists gave it their all. Unfortunately, Valtteri had more bad luck this weekend with his punctures. We need to find a way to break this script of him losing races for reasons out of his control. Valtteri could have won more races this year, and it's a shame that he has to deal with these results. But all this will make him stronger and he just has to do his best in these last two races to secure second place in the championship. I have no doubt that he will do very well next year. I also feel sorry for Racing Point, and I'm happy that Lance is unharmed. We need to analyze what happened to Sergio's car and investigate to make sure we avoid these retirements in the future".
It had been rumored at the end of the Turkish Grand Prix that Ferrari was back in the running for third place; but the result of the Bahrain Grand Prix was enough to banish that prospect. That's because Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. managed a fourth and fifth place finish at the end of the Grand Prix.
"First of all, I'm grateful that Romain wasn't seriously injured. It was great to see him get out of the car and it shows how safe the sport has become thanks to the work done by the FIA and Formula 1 together with the teams. Once again the halo has shown that it can save lives and I am sure that we will learn something from this incident to make it even safer. Also the courage shown by the stewards and the Medical Car staff was incredible. Having said that, it was a very good race for us, the best in a long time, in which everything went perfectly. Both starts were very good, which allowed us to take advantage of the Renaults. Everything ended there or almost, there was not much after that. We had a good strategy and we did what we had to do. I would call my race simple, rather than boring, where we stuck to our plan and focused on ourselves. I'm happy that all the work paid off with a fourth and fifth place, great points that are worth one of our best team results. A very good step forward compared to the Qualifications".
Admits Lando Norris, while Carlos Sainz Jr., as well as expressing words of comfort for Grosjean, who was involved in the accident at the start, talks about his incredible comeback from fifteenth place to fifth:
"First of all, that Romain is okay is the most important thing. Seeing him jump out of the cockpit was a huge relief after such a scary accident. I think what happened is a reminder of how dangerous Motorsport is. Despite the incredible safety measures we have nowadays, our lives are still at risk every weekend when we drive these beasts to the limit, and all of that deserves due respect. On the positive side, this incident demonstrates the excellent work of the FIA and Formula 1, in synergy with the teams, to make the single-seaters safer and safer. For example, I don't think anyone will dare criticize the halo after what we saw tonight. I also want to emphasize the work of the marshals and our men: they may not be driving these single-seaters, but they are still exposed to great risks and are fundamental to our safety. For my part, here is another good comeback, from 15th to 5th position. I had a very good first stint with the Soft tire, overtaking many opponents but, at the same time, making the tires last a long time. The second stint with Medium tires was also very good, overtaking the two Renaults and closing the gap with Lando. It was a great race and we managed to score a great number of points for the team, which are fundamental for the championship standings".
The mood at Ferrari is quite different. The team principal, Mattia Binotto, points out that at the end of this Grand Prix it will be necessary to analyse all the data, in order to present a different way to the second appointment on the Sakhir circuit, which will offer a new layout:
"Any consideration of the result is secondary to the relief felt when Romain emerged almost unscathed from the frightening accident he was involved in. What happened today testifies to the extraordinary work done by the FIA on the safety front and to the courage and professionalism of all the personnel who make a Grand Prix possible. Without the progress made in the last few years - I am referring especially to the introduction of the halo - we would have to comment today on something tragic. Ours was a disappointing result but we had seen since Friday that it would be an uphill weekend. Now we have a few days in front of us to analyze all the data well and understand where and how we can improve the car's behavior ahead of next weekend: if it is true that we will be racing again at Sakhir - so with asphalt conditions and temperatures identical to today's - we will be doing so on a completely new track, which could offer opportunities. It will be up to us to seize them and try to do better than we did in this Grand Prix".
Not in a good mood Sebastian Vettel, who immediately after the end of the Grand Prix comments bitterly:
"Today the only positive news of the day is the one I received over the radio confirming that Romain was okay. When we got back to the pits and I got out of my car I saw the images and I still don't know how he got out of the car. I have to admit that I deliberately avoided looking at those images too much. Talking about my race, the first stint was very bad: I had no pace and I lost a lot of time. The situation gradually improved and when I had a free track the car wasn't going badly. All in all, however, today's race was very difficult".
The German driver complained a lot on the radio about Leclerc's overtaking. The whole thing happened at the restart, after the end of the red flag that suspended the race. A quite decisive overtaking of the Monegasque that forced the four-time World Champion to lift his foot, losing several positions in the race.
"The second start was even worse than the first. In the first one he had the outside, we were close and I had no space. But the second one I think was unnecessary. There was barely any space. There was space only because I was careful not to have an accident between us; after that episode I lost a lot of ground. I struggled for the position on the grid, for the tires. This Grand Prix has been difficult. We lost a lot of ground. Also the car was difficult to drive, I lost a lot of ground until the end".
Before commenting on what happened to Romain Grosjean:
"Maybe you heard my messages on the radio. I was very worried, probably never been so worried during a race because when the accident happened I was trying to keep an eye on a rival behind me and I saw everything in the rear view mirror. Then when I got to turn 9 I realized that there were also flames and I was impatiently waiting for news about Romain. I was very relieved when I heard he was okay, but the minutes that passed before I had any updates seemed very long. Congratulations and a big thank you to everyone involved in making such safe cars - the work that has been done is incredible. Once I had the information on Romain I was free to go back to thinking only about the race but it was a difficult race for us because we were not fast enough. I started very well but then my race went uphill. I think tenth position today was all you could take home. There are two more races before the season ends and we have no intention of giving up".
With both titles now awarded, the attention on this season finale had dropped dramatically, but these latest events, with spectacular incidents and the return of the flames in the Formula 1 Circus, have reactivated the public's attention. People are wondering, in the paddock and among the fans, about Romain Grosjean's health conditions, and possibly when it will be possible to see him back on track. Meanwhile, however, the night swallows the world of Formula 1, which awaits further developments in the following hours.