The chaotic run up to the Sakhir GP Weekend

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George Russell Sakhir GP Guide
Image: AMG Mercedes F1

If there was ever a week that epitomised the importance of the Internet in motorsport, the days following the Bahrain GP was it. “Back in my day, we had to walk barefoot halfway across the country in hail to Silverstone to get news about racing”.

Well, maybe not quite, but any motorsports news in December was limited to the BBC F1 end of year special that I’d get excited for and invariably forget to watch. Or I’d read month-old news in the latest issue of F1 Racing where it’d preview the race that happened a week earlier.

Times have changed! Twitter! YouTube! Instagram! And even if you are an active user on all of them you would still have struggled to keep up on the single-seater goings-on in the days following Bahrain.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, here’s a summary of what you missed so you can head into the Sakhir Grand Prix fully prepared. And if a summary is too much, there’s a much shorter TL;DR at the foot of this article. Don’t say we’re not good to you.

The run-up to the Sakhir GP: Monday

By the rest of the week’s standards, Monday was a quiet affair. In the aftermath of Grosjean’s terrifying fireball crash, Haas made the first of their three daily driver announcements.

Pietro Fittipaldi will replace the injured Grosjean for this weekend’s race on Bahrain’s outer circuit. You can read more about that here. If you don’t know much about Pietro, find our Academy Focus piece on him here where we confidently state he won’t be the next Fittipaldi in F1. Oh, and Grosjean is out of the hospital and recovering well, incidentally.

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Monday also saw the sad but not surprising news that F2 title contender, Callum Ilott, will not be in F1 next season. The Brit may be competing in his last single-seater race this weekend as he faces an uncertain future. Callum’s tweeting of the confirmation fuelled the speculation that Schumacher-Haas news may be incoming…

The run-up to the Sakhir GP: Tuesday

…but the Haas news on Tuesday was that Hitech driver Nikita Mazepin will drive for them in 2021. Haas finally were breaking the news which felt like it broke weeks ago. With the Fittipaldi announcement too, the American team would’ve been looking forward to them dominating the sport headlin…OH MY GOD! LEWIS HAMILTON HAS COVID!

Yes, rather selfishly urinating in Mazepin’s cereal on his big day was the F1 world champion. Hamilton returned two positive COVID-19 tests following his Bahrain GP victory, ruling him out of contention for this weekend’s race, and potentially Abu Dhabi, too.

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Great timing for Prema to tell the world about their own champion driver then. F3 title winner, Oscar Piastri will be promoted to the Prema F2 team for 2021. In his thank-you tweet, Piastri expressed his delight at another year of pizza and pasta (seriously).

Piastri wasn’t the only F2 2021 driver confirmation. Ralph Boschung is returning to the championship after a year out. The Swiss driver will be bringing new backing, apparently good for the full season, to Campos where he began his F2 racing.

But “How do you know Campos will even be there in 2021?” I don’t hear you asking. Well the FIA made sure of that when they told the world that the eleven current F2 teams, Campos included, will remain for 2021-2023 in the dullest announcement of the week.

But the FIA were just whetting our appetites with that morsel. Apparently thinking that the day fans are hungriest for logistics news is the day a seven-time world champion contracts COVID, the FIA served up the F2 and F3 race weekend format for the main course.

In brief; Fridays stay the same, Saturdays will have two races, and Sundays host the Feature race. The first Saturday race will be a partial reverse grid from Friday’s qualifying, and the second a partial reverse grid based on the results from that race. Sunday will see the qualifying positions from Friday used for the starting grid. More information about Formula 2’s version of that is here, and Formula 3’s alterations are here.

A lot to digest for a single day there but thankfully that was everything. A month’s worth of news dumped into around 8 frantic hours. But hey, at least there’d be time to digest all that on Wednesday…

The run-up to the Sakhir GP: Wednesday

…when Haas decide to not let sleeping dogs lie and triggered another tireless news reporting day by confirming Mick Schumacher will join them for 2021. Like Mazepin before him, we already knew that, but the confirmation was comforting at least. Thankfully for Haas, they could happily bask in the glory of this one as Hamilton can’t catch the virus twic…OH MY GOD RUSSELL IS DRIVING FOR MERCEDES AT SAKHIR!

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That’s right! George Russell will become the first Mercedes Junior Team driver to race a Mercedes F1 car at a Grand Prix. After we confidently stated Mercedes reserve driver Vandoorne was the clear favourite for the seat, it was actually Williams driver Russell who will be Mercedes’ reserve, ahead of their…erm, reserve driver. Russell will replace Hamilton for Sakhir, and potentially Abu Dhabi if Hamilton doesn’t have a negative COVID test.

But if Russell is driving for Mercedes, who will be driving for Williams? Well, Williams did have Trident’s Roy Nissany in their cockpit in FP1 at the Bahrain GP so the choice was always going to be Jack Aitken? Huh. The Campos driver will fill in for Russell as long as is needed. And like Fittipaldi, the other F1 rookie this weekend, you can find our Academy piece where we confidently state Aitken won’t find an F1 drive here.

The run-up to the Sakhir GP: Thursday

So all that makes sense for the F1 fans now. But hold on. What about F2? Campos need a driver for the season finale now! Well, fortunately, they signed one just 24-hrs ago, though we can forgive you for forgetting that, with such a relentless flow of information to drown in. So making his F2 return early at Bahrain this weekend, around 4 months ahead of the F2 season opener at Bahrain(!) as per his contract, is Ralph Boschung.

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Thursday also saw Renault confirm their Sport Academy driver Guanyu Zhou will drive alongside their reigning world champion, Fernando Alonso, at the Abu Dhabi post-season test. News too for the Red Bull Junior Team as Hitech F3 driver, and the most recent F3 race winner, Liam Lawson, will drive the Hitech Formula 2 car at the F2 post-season test next week.

So all in all, a dull few days to lead into the Sakhir GP.

The run-up to the Sakhir GP: Too long, didn’t read

Grosjean out, Fittipaldi in for 2020.
Grosjean out, Mazepin in F1 for 2021.
Ilott out, and not in F1 in 2021.
Hamilton out, Russell in for 2020.
Schumacher out, Piastri in F2 for 2021.
Magnussen out, Schumacher in F1 for 2021.
Russell out, Aitken in for 2020.
Aitken out, Boschung in for 2020 AND 2021.
No teams out, all F2 teams in for 2021-2023.

And somewhere amongst it all is a slightly convoluted and confusing Formula 2 and Formula 3 race weekend format.

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