Hamilton survives red flag and Safety Cars to win in Bahrain
By Mat Coch
Monday 30th November, 2020 - 4:44am
Lewis Hamilton has survived an early red flag and two Safety Car periods to win the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver led a Red Bull two-three with Max Verstappen ahead of Alex Albon following heart-break for Sergio Perez almost in sight of the flag.
While Hamilton won, the race was dominated by an early crash for Romain Grosjean, who suffered a terrifying opening lap incident that saw him airlifted to hospital.
Ripped in half, Grosjean’s car turned into a fireball before he climbed free, the Haas having pierced the armco barrier.
The terrifying incident followed a good start for Hamilton, who held a clear advantage into the opening corner as Vallteri Bottas slipped backwards from second place.
In the pack, Grosjean found himself making contact with Daniil Kvyat as they exited Turn 3, spearing the former into the barrier in a frighteningly fiery crash.
It triggered a lengthy red flag before the race was restarted, the field in the order it had been in as it reached the Safety Car 2 line on the original start.
That saw Ricciardo make a poor get away to plummet to ninth as Hamilton established himself out front once again.
The Safety Car was deployed just half a lap into the restart, with Lance Stroll rolling at Turn 8 after wheel to wheel contact with Kvyat.
Uninjured in the incident, Stroll was able to climb free, with the aid of Medical Delegate Dr Ian Roberts in action for the second time in the race.
A puncture for Bottas saws the Finn forced to stop while the field was under Safety Car, emerging in 16th having been fourth as the race was neutralised.
Magnussen also took to the lane to replace a front wing, damaged in the melee at the restart.
The Safety Car was withdrawn at the end of Lap 8 without a full racing lap having been completed in the race.
Hamilton led the field from Verstappen, Perez, Albon, and Lando Norris, as Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc battled over sixth place.
Leclerc tried to seize the inside line at Turn 1, only for the Renault driver to hang around the outside and maintain the place.
Two mistakes from Daniel Ricciardo saw the Australian lose a spot midway around the lap, having locked a brake into Turn 10 while attacking Leclerc only to fall victim to Sainz a corner later when he ran wide.
Sainz put a move on Leclerc at the start of Lap 12, the Ferrari driver then slipping behind Ricciardo who pounced at Turn 8 to move up to eighth.
Gasly was the next driver to find a way through on Leclerc, a move made as officials awarded Kvyat a time penalty for his part in the clash with Stroll at the restart.
Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari slipped to last and quickly dropped away from the back of the pack as he reported his car was “undriveable”.
Ricciardo pitted after 16 laps, dropping to 18th and last of the runners remaining in the race.
His Renault team bolted on a set of hard compound tyres as he looked to undercut the queue of cars in which he’d found himself prior to the stop.
A lap later, Ocon was in the lane, as was Kvyat and Kimi Raikkonen, the latter nursing a damaged front wing.
Kvyat’s stop was punctuated by a 10 second hold before service could be completed, which saw him emerge only just ahead of Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo having replaced his front wing.
McLaren responded to Renault by pitting Norris, the Englishman emerging between Nicholas Latifi and Antonio Giovinazzi and well clear of Ocon and Ricciardo, who’d attempted to undercut him.
After 19 laps, race leader Hamilton pitted for a fresh set of medium compound tyres.
Third-placed Perez pitted next time around, rejoining fifth for Racing Point.
A strong opening stint saw Sainz rise to third before he pitted after 21 laps to swap from soft tyres to mediums.
An aggressive approach from Verstappen saw him go “full send” in his pursuit of Hamilton at the head of the race, the lead battle sitting at four seconds shortly after the pair served their first stops.
The Red Bull driver pumped in the fastest lap of the race shortly thereafter, though Hamilton was able to respond and manage the gap to his Dutch rival.
They’d pulled well clear of Perez in third, the Mexican more than 18 seconds away from the race lead with Albon a further three seconds in arrears in fourth place.
On Lap 26, Ricciardo fell behind Sainz as the Australian found himself tucked up behind team-mate Ocon.
The McLaren driver moved by Ricciardo on approach to Turn 4, splitting the two Renaults as he set off in pursuit of sixth place.
He promptly gained that a lap later, taking the spot in the opening sequence of corners.
On Lap 29, Renault reversed the positions of its two drivers, Ocon pulling aside on the exit of Turn 8 to allow Ricciardo through to seventh.
Bottas climbed into the top 10 as he started Lap 32, putting a move on Leclerc under braking into the first corner.
The Finn had endured a torrid opening to the race which had seem him drop places off the start before having to pit to change a punctured tyre under the Stroll Safety Car.
Verstappen stopped for the second time after 34 laps, a set of hard tyres bolted on in a 5.1 second stop that appeared to scupper his chances of undercutting the race leader.
He was followed in by team-mate Albon, who was turned around in 2.1 seconds.
Struggling for pace, Ocon was also pulled into the lane as he dropped to 12th with 22 laps to run.
Mercedes responded to Red Bull’s stop a lap earlier by bringing Hamilton in, the Englishman rejoining the race without losing the lead – the gap between he and Verstappen having expanded to more than 4.5 seconds, with Perez sandwiched between them yet to stop.
Racing Point made a late call to bring Perez in as Hamilton began Lap 37, sending the Mexican back out in fifth place with a fresh set of hard compound tyres.
Ricciardo also stopped for the second time that lap, rejoining alongside Ocon and before the two Renaults began battling over what was 10th place.
A lap later, a better run through the opening sequence saw Ricciardo move around the outside on approach to Turn 4 to take the final points paying position.
When the pit stop sequence had shaken itself out it left Hamilton out front by 3.2s over Verstappen, with Perez a distant third from Albon, Gasly, Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo, Ocon, and Bottas in the top 10.
Of those, Gasly was out of sequence, having stopped on Lap 25 but elected for a longer middle stint than any of his rivals.
Bottas claimed ninth from Ocon as they started Lap 44, taking the inside line at Turn 1 and resisting the Renault driver’s attempts to immediately counter the move on the run to Turn 4.
Norris moved up to fifth on Lap 44 as he easily demoted Gasly under braking at Turn 4, the AlphaTauri powerless to defend against the fresher-booted McLaren.
With 10 laps to run, Gasly found himself in a strategic no-man’s land; his hard tyres struggling for pace to the tune of almost a second a lap versus those pursuing him.
In his advantage was the fact he held an eight second advantage over Sainz, who in turn was nearly four seconds clear of Ricciardo one spot further back.
With a pit stop costing in the region of 23 seconds, and with no time to make any inroads of the back of it, AlphaTauri’s hand was effectively forced into a one-stop strategy in the hope of holding on in the final laps.
Meanwhile, Verstappen opted for a third stop, a new set of medium tyres going on to the Red Bull as he emerged in traffic behind Raikkonen and Latifi, still in second place.
Unsurprisingly, a 1:32.014s resulted; the fastest lap of the race to that point to underscore his claim for the bonus point on offer.
Sainz put his newer tyres to good use to claim sixth from Gasly, wrong footing the Frenchman through the first sequence of corner to win the drag race out of Turn 3.
Three laps from home, Perez slowed as his Racing Point began smoking heavily before shooting flames.
It handed third place to Albon as two marshals entered a live track – one of whom ran across the circuit.
Race control immediately deployed the Safety Car in response to Perez’s stricken car and the circuit intrusion, a decision which all but ended the race.
Hamilton therefore trundled across the line ahead of Verstappen, Albon, Norris, Sainz, and Gasly to win the dramatic encounter.
Ricciardo finished seventh ahead of Bottas, with Ocon and Leclerc rounding out the points paying positions.
The result saw Ricciardo climb back to fourth in the drivers’ championship while the late retirement for Perez proved costly for Racing Point as it fell behind McLaren in the constructors’ battle.
Formula 1 remains in Bahrain for the Sakhir Grand Prix next weekend, a race set to be held on the Bahrain International Circuit’s Outer Loop variant.
Result: Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix
|2||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||57||+1.254s|
|3||23||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing Honda||57||+8.005s|
|4||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||57||+11.337s|
|5||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||57||+11.787s|
|6||10||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri Honda||57||+11.942s|
|10||16||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||56||+1 lap|
|11||26||Daniil Kvyat||AlphaTauri Honda||56||+1 lap|
|12||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||56||+1 lap|
|13||5||Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||56||+1 lap|
|14||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||56||+1 lap|
|15||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||56||+1 lap|
|16||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||56||+1 lap|
|17||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||56||+1 lap|
|18||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||53||DNF|
|NC||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||2||DNF|
|NC||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||0||DNF|
Fastest lap: Max Verstappen
|2||Red Bull Racing Honda||274|
|4||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||154|
|8||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||8|