George Russell was robbed of a probable victory on his Mercedes debut after a puncture in the closing stages of the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Sergio Pérez took the chequered flag on an extraordinary evening in Bahrain to claim the first win of his career ahead of Renault’s Esteban Ocon and Racing Point teammate Lance Stroll.
Russell, promoted to the fastest Formula One machine in history after Lewis Hamilton was struck down with coronavirus, was hunting Pérez down and trailed the Mexican by just two seconds before he was forced to stop for new rubber.
Only moments earlier, Russell, a 3,000-1 outsider to win here in the desert before Hamilton was sidelined for the first time in his 256-race career, dropped down the order after a Mercedes pit-stop howler.
The 22-year-old held a commanding five-second lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas when Mercedes called both of their drivers in for new rubber after a safety car was deployed following a spin by rookie Jack Aitken. But there was a mix-up among the Mercedes mechanics as they mistakenly put Bottas’s tyres on Russell’s car. That meant Russell had to come into the pits again on the following lap dropping him to fifth.
“You should now have a tyre advantage,” Russell’s race engineer for the weekend, Pete Bonnington told the young Briton. “I f****** hope so,” Russell replied.
The safety car pulled in with 19 of the 87 laps remaining and Russell – with the bit between his teeth – wasted no time in moving up the order, passing Bottas, Stroll and Ocon inside two laps.
He set about chasing Pérez, taking more than one second out of the Racing Point man’s lead before his puncture. It allowed Pérez to cruise to a 10-second victory with Russell eventually crossing the line in ninth.
Giles Richards’ race report to follow