George Russell suffered heartbreak as a pit stop mix-up and a puncture cost him the chance of a race victory, with Sergio Perez taking the chequered flag at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
The 22-year-old from King’s Lynn, who had never scored a single championship point before standing in for Lewis Hamilton due to a positive Covid-19 test, took the lead through turn one having qualified in P2 with Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Perez tangling in the barriers behind him.
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Russell took everything in his stride until he had a moment of panic after pitting on the 47th lap, suffering a momentary sensor issue that saw him lose power. The issue was quickly resolved, though, and Russell kept P1 after Valtteri Bottas’ pit stop soon after.
However, disaster struck for Mercedes when a hasty decision was taken to double stack both drivers amid a Safety Car. Confusion led to old tyres being put on both Bottas and Russell, with the latter having to pit again the following lap.
This gave Perez the lead with 20 laps to go, but Russell hit back by passing Bottas, Stroll and Esteban Ocon in successive laps. Disaster struck for a second time, though, as Russell picked up a puncture, sending him down to 15th. The 22-year-old ultimately finished ninth to claim his first ever world championship points.
DRIVER OF THE DAY - George Russell (Mercedes)
Perez put in an exceptional performance to claim his first ever race victory, but Russell deserves huge credit for what he was able to do as Hamilton’s stand-in. He had to cope with it all. There was the pit stop mix-up which looked to have cost him. Russell responded by passing three drivers in three laps and looked to have Perez in his sights only for a puncture to send him back down to 15th. Even still, he was able to finish ninth. This might not have been a fairytale ending, but Russell did enough to prove his potential.
WHERE THE RACE WAS WON
1/87 - RUSSELL TAKES THE LEAD! It's the young Brit who takes the lead into Turn One! There's mayhem further down the pack! Perez looks to have spun! Did he take someone with him? Was that Verstappen?! It was! And Leclerc too!
65/87 - Terrible, terrible pit stop! Mercedes double-stacked their drivers as the Safety Car was deployed. Russell gets in and out, but then there's an issue with the front left tyre. That has cost Bottas dearly! He has actually lost track position!
66/87 - Real confusion for Mercedes! It's not quite clear what happened there! Did they put the same tyres back on the two drivers?! Russell isn't on new tyres so he's having to come in again! It was a mixed tyre set! Oh dear, oh dear. That has cost Russell the race! Perez is now leading!
70/87 - Russell gets past Bottas! The Finn goes wide and Russell makes the most of the mistake, getting down the inside of his teammate! What a move from Russell! He is still in play here!
72/87 - Russell is on the charge! This is incredible! He is going for it! Russell gets past Stroll! He is back into the podium positions! Now having a look at Ocon! He needs to get past the Renault quickly to catch Perez! These are quick laps!
73/87 - AMAZING! Russell gets past Ocon and is up into P2! This feels like the birth of a superstar! Russell now has Perez in his sights! There is a three-second distance between the two!
79/87 - Russell puncture! That is such a shame for Russell! He had the race victory in his sights, but he has picked up a puncture and he has been forced to pit again! He's now out of the points!
Perez wins the Sakhir GP! The Mexican claims his first ever victory in F1! Perez is in tears on the team radio! Surely this guy is going to have a seat next season? Ocon finishes second. What a result for him. And Stroll makes it a double Racing Point finish on the podium!
BEST PIT EXCHANGE
"Aaaaargh! I don’t know what to say,” Russell said on the Mercedes team radio after it became clear he wasn’t going to finish on the podium. It was clear in this moment the emotional tension the 22-year-old was racing with.
Perez passed Alex Albon after 23 laps having been sent to the back of the pack following a spin on the opening lap. The Mexican held his nerve to get the move done. There was also symbolism to the overtake, with Perez widely tipped to be on Red Bull’s radar for Albon’s seat for next season.
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