Where did it all go wrong?
The Mercedes Formula 1 team seemed to have everything under control in the F1 Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain on Sunday.
Things seemed to be easier still when Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen careened off the track and out of the race on the first lap. Even Sergio Perez lost control on that opening lap and came out of the first lap of the 87-lap race at the back of the field among the 18 cars still in the race.
Even with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton home and nursing a positive COVID-19 test, George Russell and Valtteri Bottas were still racing like the class of the field and had things well in hand.
There was no way this one was getting away.
Uh, check that.
Russell, who joined the Mercedes program on loan from the Williams F1 team earlier in the week, raced assured and unflustered. He led 59 of the 87 laps. Bottas, however, was hanging around and one could not help but wonder if he was about to make a late push for victory himself.
And then it all went horribly wrong for the Mercedes men. Or, to use the words of team boss Toto Wolff (on live TV, no less), it was “a colossal fuck up”.
On lap 62, Russell came into the pits for his second stop of what was to be a two-stop race, leaving Bottas to lead. A radio miscommunication led to the Mercedes team fitting the front tires that were meant for Bottas on to Russell’s car. This was a breach of the rules. The team realized the mistake when Bottas came in, and after a lengthy stop for Bottas, the team ended up sending Bottas out from the pits on the same tires he had been using.
The team then called Russell in to put the correct tires on his car. By the time all of this occurred, both cars had dropped own the order. To compound the disaster, Russell’s Mercedes suffered a left rear tire puncture just as he was picking moving toward a battle with the leaders.
The puncture led to an other pit, and Russell, who led most of the race, came out of the final pit in 15th place. He ended the day in ninth place, just behind Bottas, which just goes to prove that things can wrong for even the best team in Formula 1.
“Overall, we messed up in a major way today,” Wolff said. “Obviously, it was looking good for us until the Safety Car. We were running in a strong one-two, we were fine on the hard tire and could have stayed out, but we had the gap for a free stop, and we took that opportunity.
“I think it was absolutely the right call, but it was a late one and we had a radio problem, which meant we didn’t have the right tires in the pit. This is why George exited with the wrong tires and Valtteri left the pits on the same tires he’d arrived on.
“Then we had to pit George again to correct the mistake. By then, the race was not lost and he battled back in an impressive way; but then he had the slow puncture and that dropped him back. These things can happen but obviously we need to investigate.
“It was heart-breaking for George after a monumental drive in his first race with Mercedes and he should have won. It didn’t work out today, but I’m sure this isn’t going to be his last attempt to win a race.”
Russell said that he had mixed feelings about his debut race with Mercedes.
“I don’t quite know how to sum up the mixture of emotions I’m feeling at the moment,” Russell said. “On the one hand, I’m proud of the job we did this weekend. I had a great group of people around me that was working very hard and diligently to get me prepared and ready for qualifying and the race.
“But today was absolutely gutting. I’ve had races before where I had a victory taken away from me, but it felt like that happened twice today, I still can’t quite believe it. I had everything under control after the start and was managing the race, looking after my tires and keeping the gap to Valtteri. Then we had that mess up during the pit stop. That put us on the back foot, but I think we still could have won. And then the car was starting to feel a bit funny; I didn’t want to believe it was a puncture, I just wanted to power through, but that obviously was not an option. I’m gutted, but also proud.”
A strange mix of emotions, indeed.
All of this meant that Formula 1 had a topsy-turvy race, and an unexpected winner in Perez, a driver who is out of work after the season finale next weekend in Abu Dhabi.
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
F1 Sakhir Grand Prix
at Bahrain International Ciruit
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