Sakhir Sucks as Russell strikes out

Wow, what a whirlwind of a week in the build-up to today’s race. While everyone still reeled from the accident involving Grosjean and lapped up his updates from the hospital, F1 twitter was going mad for the news of Russell replacing Hamilton in today’s race as Hamilton tested positive for Covid-10. Yes, that’s right, Hammy’s got the rona. Haas also announced that their two new drivers for 2021 would be F2 drivers Nikta Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.

For the first time this year we had a grand total of 87 laps to look forward to instead of the usual 60 odd. The excitement was building as the nation waited to find out whether Russell could lap up the spotlight and perform as well as Hamilton in Hamilton’s very own car. It felt like the battle of the British and as if a big secret was about to unveiled – if Russell can perform just as well as Hamilton in this race, then the car must be the reason for Hamilton’s success. Or so people were saying.

This was not a set up that Russell was used to and trained for. He had to squeeze himself into the seat due to his height, and he was even asking where all the buttons were as he drove. I discovered that he is apparently from Kings Lynn, which made me all the more supportive of him as Kings Lynn is the place where I have learnt to drift. I finally felt like a home fan.

During the first turn of the race Russell surged into first and our dreams for a podium win were amplified by ten. Suddenly, three turns later, there were 3 cars off the track and what looked like a badly damaged car for Verstappen. Queue safety car. LeClerc and Verstappen were out of the race and Perez had to return to the pits for repairs. He came back onto the track in last place as the commentators discussed whether he was the cause of the incident. This moment was debated a lot throughout the race and in the post-race interviews, as it was unclear whether Perez had caused the crash by turning too harshly into the apex (and consequently LeClerc) or whether LeClerc had steered into Verstappen, causing Verstappen to veer away to avoid an incident and ending up in the barrier. Prior to this, thanks to the replays, we could see that all 3 cars involved were locking up coming into turn 4. I’m still not certain who was at fault.

In the meantime Norris had picked up an astonishing 9 places on the opening lap and Russell was outshining his new teammate. While Bottas and Sainz battled for position, Russell was ahead of the pack with a 1.1 second gap. It wasn’t until he gained another second however that he started getting confident, innocently asking his team “let me know when you want me to push”. He was now out of DRS distance from Bottas.

Not a lot grabbed my attention for a while as the laps were absolutely flying by and I was too busy daydreaming about Russell’s incredible luck. This once in a lifetime opportunity to take the world champion’s seat for the penultimate race had been given to him because of Covid-19. As much as we moan about the big bad word that has plagued our year, Corona had given Russell his big break. I genuinely felt dead chuffed for him and I know that even Claire Wiliams woud have been buzzing for him.
The track was an odd layout in the fact that it was small and fairly basic, but this made it incredibly fast. Mercedes were surmising that they would lap 26 cars by the end of the race but the plot thickened. Russell’s first pit stop was a test, as he pulled into a different garage than he’s become accustomed to all season, and the team needed to get him out quickly as to not lose him many places. He went in 1st and came out into 2nd. However, as expected, Russell regained that place when Bottas pitted. Russell now had a set of hard tyres on to last him until the end of the race and still managed to set a fastest lap even though his concerns about loss of power were confirmed by the team. He was the epitome of cool, calm and collected.

At this point it has to be noted that Perez had made an absolutely amazing recovery from his initial incident. He came back onto track in last place and by lap 59 had leaped into 3rd place. He was also on a hard tyre so was likely to gain a podium as he wouldn’t have to pit again. We never expected what happened next.

Mercedes made a very bad call and decided to double stack their pit stops. It wasn’t quite clear what had happened but both tyre changes were an absolute shambles. The team took forever (the F1 time zone kind of forever as it was only 27 seconds in reality) to get Bottas back out and then we heard that they had supposedly put the same tyres back on, in a big confusion between Russell’s tyres and Bottas’. They accidentally put a mixed set onto Russell’s car which meant he had to come in for yet another pit stop after just one lap. Why did Mercedes bring Russell in for a fresh set to start with when he had a set of hards on? Russell lost so much time behind the safety car that he was now in 5th place. You could almost feel his frustration through the screen.

Perez was now in first place followed by Ocon, Stroll, Bottas and Russell. Russell pulled off a bold move to slip into 4th immediately followed by a manoeuvre which put him in 3rd place. With 15 laps to go, could he do it? He smoothly overtook Ocon and was in 2nd when absolute disaster struck in the form of a rear left puncture. He flew back onto track in a rage as he was now in 15th place. What an absolutely devastating turn of events. It was clear he wasn’t going to get a podium now but he still fought his way up 5 more places to finish in P10 and win his first ever world championship point.

Given a few more laps I think Russell could have claimed that top spot because he showed some seriously impressive driving. Would Hamilton have kept on driving with a puncture and pushed the car to confirm that win? I think he might have done. However Russell just wasn’t in that comfort zone or in a position to argue with Mercedes. I was absolutely gutted for him and I think the whole country joined me in that sentiment.

We do need to talk about Perez’ insane comeback race, starting last and finishing in 1st, with Ocon in 2nd and Stroll in 3rd. What an unpredictable line up. It was the first ever double podium for Racing Point and the team were beyond ecstatic. Perez was crying over the team radio and although I’m not a huge fan of his I couldn’t help but be chuffed for him. He well and truly deserved that result after a year of bad news and disappointment. Let alone having Corona and jumping back into the game. You can call that comeback of the year.

As for driver of the day, that’s a pretty tough call. My vote is with Russell for absolutely proving his worth under an extreme amount of pressure, and I sincerely hope that Hamilton is out of the options for next week.

Sophie Middleton @‪MotorsportSoph