Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix after a fiery first-lap crash for Romain Grosjean saw the race suspended for more than an hour.
Grosjean’s Haas split in half and exploded into a fireball after smashing through the steel barrier at the outside of Turn 3 at approximately 85mph. The Frenchman had clipped the front of Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri while traveling at around 150mph, sending him spearing off the track.
His car pierced the barrier, the halo cleaving a its way through metal struts, and the momentum snapped the rear of the chassis from the survival cell. Spilt fuel from the broken car then ignited the cockpit, engulfing Grosjean in flames.
The medical car was immediately on the scene to help the driver climb from his burning cockpit in less than 20 seconds. He was largely unscathed barring some minor burns and a suspected broken rib, for which he was transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital.
“It was a big surprise for us as well, we’ve never seen that much fire,” medical driver Alan van der Merwe said after returning from the scene. “Romain started to get out of the car himself, which was pretty amazing after an accident like that.
“It just goes to show all the systems we’ve developed worked hand in hand. The halo, the barriers, the seatbelts — everything all worked as it should.
“Without just one of those things, it could have been a very different outcome.”
Lengthy barrier repairs ensued, with the damaged guardrail replaced by concrete blocks, for the race to be restarted approximately 75 minutes later.
But action had resumed for little more than a minute before a safety car was called, this time to collect Lance Stroll’s flipped Racing Point car — Kvyat had rolled the pink machine in a clumsy side-by-side collision that earned him a 10-second penalty.
⚠️ SAFETY CAR ⚠️
Stroll has crashed
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 29, 2020
Hamilton controlled the restart, and this time the resumption stuck, allowing hm to begin building a gap over second-placed Max Verstappen.
It was clear from early in the race that the Mercedes car had a comfortable pace advantage that wouldn’t be overcome on track. Red Bull Racing attempted instead to unseat the Briton from the lead with an alternative strategy at the first stops, switching Verstappen to the hard tire when Hamilton chose the medium. The team was keeping its options open to make only one stop, but after 14 laps the most durable compound wasn’t yielding the longevity expected, and a second stop scuppered his chances of improving on the place. It left the way clear for Hamilton to eke out a small lead to take the checkered flag.
“I was flat out the whole way trying to keep them at bay,” he said. “It really was physically very demanding … this track has always been physical … so I was definitely feeling it.”
Verstappen later made a third stop for fresh tires to snatch a consolation point for fastest lap, moving him to within 12 points of Valtteri Bottas in second on the championship table.
“We were just lacking a bit,” he said. “I tried to keep it close, but they always had an answer. It is what it is. Second is not bad.”
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was on track for his second consecutive podium after jumping Alex Albon on the first lap until his Mercedes engine spectacularly burst into flames with two laps remaining, forcing him out of the race and ending the grand prix behind the safety car. It gifted Albon only his second career podium, and at a potentially crucial time in his career as he attempts to justify to his team a contract extension for 2021.
Agony for Checo Perez!
After looking certain to finish in P3, his car starts billowing smoke
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 29, 2020
“It felt like the last few races have been getting better and better,” he said. “The results haven’t really been showing it.
“It feels good, obviously, a double podium for us. I’m happy.”
Lando Norris finished a comfortable fourth behind Albon after improving from ninth on the grid at the red-flag restart and holding the position thereafter.
He was followed home by teammate Carlos Sainz, one of the standout performers of the race, who recovered from 15th on the grid thanks to a ferocious first stint on the soft tire as the only driver in the field to use the most delicate compound.
The Spaniard monstered his way through the field and rose to third before making his first stop, dropping him behind Renault’s two squabbling drivers. He made short work of the yellow cars, the Renault pit wall prevaricating over deploying team orders, to climb back up to fifth behind Norris at the flag.
The strong result promoted McLaren to third in the constructors standings 17 points ahead of Racing Point, which failed to score.
Pierre Gasly finished sixth after an ambitious strategy that saw him complete the entire race bar the first lap on only two sets of tires in what was effectively a one-stop strategy.
He complained late that his tires were beginning to expire but was handed the lifeline of Perez’s safety car to get him to the flag.
Daniel Ricciardo claimed seventh for Renault after being negotiated ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon after their first pit stops, the Australian clearly the quicker driver despite using the harder tire for the middle stint.
Ocon was on track to follow him home until Valtteri Bottas slipped ahead of him on Lap 43 as the Finn recovered from a puncture behind the safety car at the start of the race dropped him to 16th at the restart.
Charles Leclerc scored the final point of the race a lap down in 10th after a strong safety car restart vaulted him from 12th on the grid.
Daniil Kvyat finished 11th ahead of Williams driver George Russell.
Sebastian Vettel suffered a miserable day in a Ferrari he described as “undriveable” on his way to 13th ahead of Nicholas Latifi.
Alfa Romeo teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi finished 15th and 16th respectively ahead of the stricken Perez.