Sergio Perez wins Sakhir GP from last to first; still faces uncertain 2021

Perez wins Sakhir GP
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Sergio Perez wins the Sakhir GP after surviving an opening lap spin and benefitting from a full course caution and chaos in the Mercedes pits. It is his first Formula 1 victory.

Drama can be an overused description in auto racing, but if it ever fit a driver’s win, it belongs to the Mexican racer. Perez picked his way through the Sakhir GP field after getting spun on the opening lap. Forced to pit after the incident, he rejoined the pack in the last car on the track.

“I hope I’m not dreaming here because I dreamed so many years of being in this moment,” Perez said from the top of the podium. “After the first lap, the race was again gone same as last weekend. But it was again about not giving up, recovering, going through it, making it the best we possibly could.”

Last week Perez driver was heading for a second consecutive podium finish for the first time in his career before an electrical failure eliminated him from competition. Perez desperately needed the win to help secure a ride for 2021 after it was announced earlier this season that he will not return to Racing Point.

“It gives me a little more peace with myself,” Perez added. “What happens (in 2021) is not so much in my hands at the moment, but I know I want to keep going.”

Perez is rumored as one of the possible drivers for Red Bull next year.

Perez was not the only emotional driver on the podium. And he was not the only driver standing there with a career-best finish.

Esteban Ocon finished second for the first podium finish of his career. He had three fifth-place results as his best, with the most recent coming earlier this year at Spa-Francorchamps.

“I cried on the line,” Ocon said. “That is how much emotion is going through my mind now. It’s been a tough season. It hasn’t paid off all the time, but we never stopped pushing. We kept working hard, stayed motivated. That was very important.”

Racing Point’s Lance Stroll took the final spot on the podium. His third-place finish matched a career best set twice previously including earlier this season at Monza. This was the first time in the history of the team that both Racing Point drivers stood on the podium.

Like his teammate Perez, it was a stark reversal of fortune. Stroll ended his race last week upside down after an incident with Daniil Kvyat.

Getting to the top of the podium wasn’t easy for Perez.

For the second straight week a full course caution waved on the opening lap.

Polesitter Valtteri Bottas succumbed to teammate George Russell in the first corner and a slow exit bunched up the field. Battling for a spot among the top five, Charles Leclerc drove into the corner hard and spun Perez. In the aftermath, Leclerc and Max Verstappen retired with crash damage. Leclerc has been given a three-grid penalty for the season-ending race at Abu Dhabi for the avoidable contact.

Perez was forced to pit to swap out his flat-spotted tires.

It was the fifth time in his career that Verstappen retired because of an opening lap crash. One of those previous incidents happened this September in the Tuscan GP.

“They were being so aggressive and reckless,” Verstappen said after the Sakhir incident. “We were all at the front and at the end of the day two cars are out, so I don’t really know why. Especially Charles in Turn 4. Why he dives to the inside like that? To brake that late; [Perez] can’t see what is happening on the inside.”

Perez won the Sakhir GP with an assist from late-race chaos.

Making F1 debut, Jack Aitken spun out of the final corner on Lap 62 and sheared off the nose of his Williams’ car. The crash brought out a full course caution that brought Russell and Bottas into the pits. The team chose to stack the stops on top of one another and mixed up the tires of Russell and Bottas.

After dominating the race to this point, Russell and Bottas both rejoined the field behind the eventual podium finishers. Russell managed to pick his way to the runner-up spot and trailed by a little more than two seconds before a left rear puncture brought him to the pits for a fourth time during the race. It sealed his fate as well as that of Perez and allowed the first-time winner to take the top spot by more than eight seconds over the field.