It may be another Lewis Hamilton victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix this year, but all headlines will be on Roman Grosjean and his horrific accident. A huge fireball engulfed the Frenchman’s Haas following the usual frantic Bahrain close racing on the first three corners. Grosjean tagged Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri, sending him hurtling into the barriers. The engine cover and rear half of the Haas ripped off and left the survival cell, and Grosjean himself, stuck in the barriers while flames lashed all over him.
Somewhat miraculously Grosjean walked out of the car as the marshals and safety team sprayed the fire extinguishers over the flaming carcass of the car, and onto Romans overalls for good measure. Shortly after, news broke that Grosjean had possibly broken his ribs and suffered minor burns on his hands and feet but was otherwise okay. The 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix may well be Grosjean’s last in Formula One with the injuries. It won’t be how he would’ve liked his F1 career to have ended, but will be mighty thankful to have survived such a terrifying accident.
A lengthy red flag period followed while the barriers were replaced with concrete alternatives, resulting in a standing start for the remaining 19 drivers. Any running after the stoppage didn’t last long as Kvyat once again was involved in contact.
This time the Russian attempted to overtake Lance Stroll’s Racing Point into turn eight. Stroll had a slow and wide entry into the downhill right-hander but was unaware of the AlphaTauri on the inside line. His rear tire hit Kvyat’s front, sending the Canadian upside down and out of the race. Though an F1 car on its roof always looks dramatic, the incident was more of a slow tipping over, and Stroll crawled out completely unharmed.
It might’ve taken two attempts to start the Bahrain race, but the early action wasn’t limited to safety car incidents. The lower part of the starting grid from Saturday’s qualifying sessions was thrown out the window. Leclerc, in particular, was particularly up the order in the opening laps. He was fighting with Ocon for sixth place, quite an achievement after starting the race in P12.
The 2018 Ocon briefly came out to race and sternly fought off the Monegasque. Charles‘s future teammate, Carlos Sainz, then demoted the Ferrari down the order with a DRS assisted overtake. Ricciardo got in on the action too, and before too long, Leclerc was in tenth, behind Pierre Gasly to.
Renault went for the first scheduled pit stop on lap 17 with Ricciardo. The Australian pitting early allowed him to get out of the traffic his fellow midfield peers were creating. The first round of pitstops allowed Bottas to recover somewhat, too. The Finn was much further down the order after a poor start anyway but had to pit following the safety car thanks to a tyre puncture, too.
With plenty of contrary pit strategies a play, the well-discussed midfield fight was in full swing. Renault and McLaren shared much of the race track in fifth to eighth places. With Racing Point being down to just one car, it was Sergio Perez, once again, leading the pink team up in a mighty third place.
With race settling down somewhat, it was a familiar story of Hamilton on Verstappen out front. You could sense that Hamilton had no worries about the chasing Dutchman, despite his post-race interview saying otherwise. With Bottas well out of position, the third and fourth place flight was between the two men who are the candidates for the 2021 Red Bull race seat. Albon didn’t have the pace of his superstar teammate but could challenge to be on the podium if he could chase down Perez.
Further back, Renault invoked team orders, possibly a little too late, to unleash Daniel Ricciardo to hunt down Norris and Sainz in fifth and sixth, with the Australian firing up his hard compound tyres a better than Ocon could do with his mediums. After a lacklustre second stint for all, the power of the undercut was apparent in the second round of stops. Ocon was ahead of Ricciardo once again by virtue of pitting two laps earlier. No team orders this time and Ricciardo showed his younger teammate who was boss by promptly retaking the position to be the lead Renault. The pass was fore pride more than anything, as neither yellow-liveried car could reel in then McLarens ahead.
The two wildcards amongst the McLaren-Renault battle where Gasly who ran extremely long on his white-walled hard rubber, up ahead, and Bottas recovering from his early puncture behind. Bottas had little problem overtaking Ocon when he caught the Frenchman, and shortly after Norris eased past Gasly. Bottas showing the benefits of fresh rubber while Gasly highlighted the issues with old.
Curiously, Red Bull took advantage of the large gap behind Max Verstappen and brought their lead car in for a new set of Pirelli’s with ten laps to go. While late pitstops typically are indicative of a push for fastest lap, Max already held the time for the bonus point. Red Bull perhaps worried that the lower fuel loads would reduce the times to such an extent that they could lose the said point. With Verstappen looking to close in on Bottas in the drivers’ standings, every point will count.
Gasly and his old hard tyres continued to cause problems for the French driver. He continued to slip back, first to Carlos Sainz who passed the AlphaTauri in the terrific trio of corners at the start of the lap. Ricciardo was then taking chunks of time from the gap to Gasly as well, and was soon on the back of AlphaTauri, looking certain to overtake.
It was not to be, though, as fire bookended the race. This time it was heartbreak for Sergio Perez whose Racing Point suffered a power unit failure of some sort. Checo persevered around half of the lap, but the constant puffs of smoke indicated how terminal his problem was. A definite podium, what would’ve been Perez’s second in two races, slipped through his grasp through no fault of his.
The safety car was deployed, once again, which saved Gasly’s slide back and halted Bottas’s march forwards. The biggest benefactor was Alex Albon, though. The Thai driver never got anywhere near Perez to take third, but he stood on the podium for the second time this season thanks to the Racing Point’s double DNF.
Hamilton won under the safety car and the podium with both Red Bull drivers for the first time since Japan 2017. Formula One will stay in Bahrain for next week’s Sakhir Grand Prix. If the sport finishes this season with two unremarkable races, but twenty unharmed drivers, that would be fine by me.
F1 Bahrain GP Race Results