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Perez takes first F1 career victory in Rolex Sakhir Grand Prix

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Chaos reigned as Sergio Perez was the eventual winner of the Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain. The Racing Point driver, without a seat in Formula One next season, claimed victory amid one of the most dramatic races on the smallest circuit this campaign.

Perez emerged victorious after 87 hotly contested laps around BIC’s 3.543-kilometre Outer Track, featuring incredible drama throughout.

As he crossed the finish line, the chequered flag was waved by National Taskforce for Combatting the Coronavirus member and Salmaniya Medical Complex Infectious and Internal Diseases Consultant Dr Jameela Salman, while a colourful fireworks display lit up the night sky.

Joining Perez on the podium were Renault’s Esteban Ocon and Racing Point teammate Lance Stroll. Perez started from fifth on the grid but had a disastrous first lap after getting involved in a turn-four incident that led to the retirements of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Perez was forced to pit but then did masterfully to battle back towards the front, where he was hunting down the Mercedes pair of George Russell and pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas.

Perez inherited the lead when Russell and Bottas were called in for fresh tyres, but the team made some uncharacteristic mistakes and botched both pit stops, likely costing them a dream one-two.

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Perez took advantage and enjoyed clean air in front of him, building a comfortable lead as he charged towards the finish. He powered to the victory in one hour 31 minutes 15.114 seconds for his first triumph in F1.

Ocon followed 10.518 seconds behind for his first career podium, while Stroll claimed his second podium of 2020 11.869s back. Carlos Sainz was fourth for McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo fifth for Renault, Alexander Albon sixth for Red Bull, and Daniil Kvyat seventh for AlphaTauri. Bottas, Russell and Lando Norris in the second McLaren rounded out the top 10 and the race’s points scorers.

The classification from 11th to 17th, respectively, featured AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the Alfa Romeo pair of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, Williams’ Jack Aitken, and Pietro Fittipaldi in the other Haas.

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Nicholas Latifi in the second Williams car, along with Verstappen and Leclerc, were all not classified.

For the second successive weekend at BIC, there was some drama at the race start. Leclerc had collided with Perez at turn four, causing significant damage to the Ferrari. Verstappen, in trying to avoid contact with the pair, ran wide and slid into the wall, while Perez was lucky not to be taken out in the clash.

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Mercedes’ two crucial pit-stop errors proved disastrous in their bid for victory. Russell, driving in place of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, was leading with Bottas behind him when the safety car was deployed on lap 63. The team called both drivers in for new tyres, but had inadvertently put on a mixed set for Russell, which required him to pit once more later on. The team also had trouble replacing Bottas’s tyres in his stop, which lasted nearly 30 seconds, costing him valuable time.

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Russell was able to recover and go back to second place with under a three-second gap from Perez, but then a puncture required him to make his fourth pit stop of the race. He rejoined outside of the top 10, and was unable to challenge for the win from there. Bottas had also struggled over the race’s closing stages, setting the stage for Perez’s dramatic first-place finish.

The F1 Rolex Sakhir Grand Prix was the penultimate round of the 2020 FIA F1 World Championship. It was also the second race of Bahrain’s first-ever F1 double-header.

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