SAKHIR, Bahrain – It took him 190 starts, but Sergio Perez is finally a Grand Prix winner in Formula One competition.
The Racing Point BWT Mercedes driver came out on top of a chaotic Sakhir Grand Prix on the Outer Circuit at the Bahrain Int’l Circuit Sunday, earning his first Formula One victory in his penultimate race with the Racing Point squad.
“I’m a bit speechless,” Perez said after emerging from his car. “I hope I’m not dreaming.”
At first it appeared Perez’s shot at winning on Sunday was gone before the first lap was complete. Perez made contact with the pack with the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, damaging Perez’s car and eliminating Leclerc and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen from the race.
Perez was able to limp his Racing Point to the pits, where his team quickly changed tires and made sure his car was able to continue. Perez returned to the track last of the cars still in the race, meaning he’d have to race his way from the rear to the front of the field.
Meanwhile, George Russell was racing like a man possessed. Driving in place of Lewis Hamilton, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier in the week, Russell took the lead at the start of the race from polesitter Valtteri Bottas.
Russell would dominated most of the race from there, only briefly giving up the lead to Bottas during a round of pit stops midway through the event. However, Sunday would not be Russell’s day.
On lap 63 Jack Aitken, racing the Williams typically driven by Russell, crashed and left debris on the track to bring out the safety car. The Mercedes team made a late call to bring both Russell and Bottas into the pits for a tire change.
This is where everything went wrong for Russell. He got his tires and left the pits, but when Bottas made his stop the Mercedes team realized they’d put the wrong tires on Russell’s car. After a lengthy stop for Bottas, Mercedes was forced to bring Russell back to the pits, dropping him from the lead to fifth with Bottas in fourth.
With the misfortune of Russell and Bottas, Perez suddenly found himself elevated into the race lead. He’d raced his way from the back to third behind the Mercedes duo, but when the Mercedes cars stumbled Perez was suddenly in the lead.
Racing resumed on lap 69 and Perez quickly went to work, inching away from new runner-up Esteban Ocon from Renault and Perez’s Racing Point teammate Lance Stroll. Behind the lead trio, Russell made quick work of Bottas before setting his sights on the front three.
Russell soon dispatched Stroll and Ocon before turning his attention to Perez. However, on lap 79 Russell was called back to the pits with a puncture in one of his tires, ending his dreams of scoring his first Formula One victory in his Mercedes debut.
For Perez, however, a dream was now a reality. He maintained his lead for the remainder of the race, beating Ocon to the checkered flag by more than 10 seconds for his maiden Grand Prix victory.
“I’ve dreamed so many years of being in this moment. Ten years, 10 years it took me. Incredible. I don’t know what to say,” said Perez, who became the second Grand Prix winner from Mexico. “After the first lap the race was, again, gone. Same as last weekend. But it was all about not giving up, recovering, going for it. Just making it the best we possibly could.
“The luck hasn’t been with us this year, but we finally got it and I we won today on merit. Yeah, the Mercs had some issues, but I think in the end my pace was strong enough to have held (off) George, who had a fantastic race today.”
Ocon’s runner-up result was the first podium finish of his career and the third podium for the Renault team this year. Stroll took third, giving Racing Point two cars on the podium for the first time.
Carlos Sainz Jr. took fourth for McLaren, with Daniel Ricciardo finishing fifth in the second Renault.
Russell finished ninth, earning his first points finish in Formula One competition. Despite that, he was left frustrated with what could have been his first Grand Prix triumph in his Mercedes debut.
“I can’t really put it into words to be honest,” Russell said. “I’ve had races where I’ve had victories taken away from me, but twice? I just couldn’t believe it. I gave it everything I had.”
Alexander Albon, Daniil Kvyat, Bottas, Russell and Lando Norris completed the top-10.