Sergio Perez has sensationally won his first Formula 1 grand prix from last on the first lap after a Mercedes pit stop blunder and late puncture cost George Russell a chance to regain the lead of the Sakhir GP.
The Racing Point driver was hit by Charles Leclerc at the start of the race in a crash that took out the Monegasque and Max Verstappen, forcing Perez into a costly first-lap pit stop for fresh tires, but the Mexican made rapid progress in the first half of the race before making just one extra stop to rise to third late in the race.
A podium behind a comfortable Russell-led Mercedes one-two was on the cards, but a late-race safety car conspired to lose Mercedes its double podium and promote Perez into a race-winning position.
Mercedes opted to double-stack its drivers from the lead as a precaution for the safety car restart, but the pit crew confused the tires belonging to each driver, fitting a compound belonging to Bottas to Russell’s car.
Bottas was held long in his pit box as the error was discovered and Russell had to stop a second time to rectify the mistake, dropping them from the front to fourth and fifth respectively.
What a move by @GeorgeRussell63!
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 6, 2020
Russell made rapid progress at the restart with 18 laps to go, rising to second behind Perez with 13 laps to go, but a left-rear puncture forced him into another stop at the end of Lap 78, dropping to 15th and out of contention.
By then the pursuing Ocon and Stroll, on older tires, had fallen away, leaving Perez in clear air to massage his Racing Point machine to the checkered flag and an immensely popular maiden victory.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED pic.twitter.com/WBKBAhhwGy
— BWT Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) December 6, 2020
“I’m speechless,” and emotional Perez said. “I hope I’m not dreaming, because I dreamed so many years being in this moment.
“Ten years it took me. Incredible. I don’t know what to say.
“After the first lap the race was again going the same as last weekend, but it was all about not giving up. The luck has not been with us this year, but we finally got it.”
Esteban Ocon crossed the line in second with a 10-second deficit for the Frenchman’s maiden podium and Renault’s third for the season. The Frenchman expressed relief for the result after spending much of the season being battered by teammate Ricciardo.
“I cried on the line, that’s how much emotion is going through my mind,” he said. “It’s been a tough season on our side. It hasn’t paid off all the time, but we never stopped pushing.
Lance Stroll completed the podium for a Racing Point double. The Canadian was clearly disappointed to have been beaten by his teammate after himself running third early in the race but paid credit to the team result.
“Amazing race for the team,” he said. “A part of me is a little disappointed because I could’ve won the race … but I just didn’t have the pace.
“All in all very happy for the team. it’s an unbelievable result, and first and third is exactly what we needed for the championship.”
The unlikely top three was decided not just on Mercedes’s mistakes but by the trio not being pulled into a second pit stop during a virtual safety car on Lap 53, deployed to collect Nicholas Latifi’s stopped Williams.
Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo had been running in third, fourth and fifth beforehand, and a second stop by Kvyat in at attempt to undercut the leading Spaniard forced the other two to cover with the help of the caution.
But it dropped all three into slower traffic, promoting the ultimate podium-getters to the places behind the leading Mercedes cars and allowing them to gamble on an increasingly likely-looking one-stop strategy, which ultimately delivered them to the rostrum.
Sainz trailed home fourth ahead of Ricciardo in fourth in fifth, with Alex Albon passing Daniil Kvyat late for sixth and seventh, the Thai driver having started outside the top 10 but failed to make much of an impact on the race.
Bottas and Russell finished eighth and ninth, a paltry return for their domination over most of the race, in particular for Russell, who had his teammate’s measure all evening filling in for Lewis Hamilton.
The Briton was verbose with frustration over team radio after crossing the line, but his anger was quelled by praise from team leadership after a strong weekend, having received a late call-up to the team.
Lando Norris completed the top 10 after a slog of a race. The McLaren driver started 19th with a power unit penalty but rose to 10th on the first lap but couldn’t exercise his car’s strong pace in the DRS train of the midfield.
Pierre Gasly finished 11th ahead of an anonymous Sebastian Vettel in 12th.
Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen finished 13th and 14th.
Haas’s Kevin Magnussen finished 15th ahead of debutants Jack Aitken and Pietro Fittipaldi for Williams and Haas respectively.