Mercedes pit-stop blunder hands Perez maiden F1 win, heartbreak for Russell
Sergio Perez took full advantage of a shocking Mercedes pit-stop blunder that broke the heart of George Russell that allowed the Mexican to claim his first Formula 1 victory.
After brilliantly stepping into the race boots of Covid-hit Lewis Hamilton, Russell was cruising to a win in the Sakhir Grand Prix when a safety car was called on lap 62 of the 87 after his stand-in at Williams Jack Aitken had spun out of the final exit.
It resulted in him losing his front wing as he clipped the end of a barrier, and although a VSC was initially called, it led to a full safety car given its dangerous position on the track.
That sparked calamity in the Mercedes pits as the team opted to double-stack, with the team initially swapping Russell from a set of hard tyres to medium.
Valtteri Bottas followed in behind and initially took on the mediums, but it was swiftly realised there was a mistake and the team had to swap him back onto the hards they had just taken off, all the time leading to the brakes cooking and a small fire on the front left.
As Russell toured behind the safety car he was informed he had on the wrong set of tyres, those that should have been for Bottas, leading to him requiring another pit stop to take on the right set of mediums.
The confusion demoted Bottas to fourth and Russell to fifth behind a leading trio of Perez, Renault's Esteban Ocon and the second Racing Point of Lance Stroll, leading to a 20-lap showdown once the safety car departed.
Russell brilliantly swept past Bottas on lap 70 before the Briton used DRS to take Stroll up the inside into turn one on the following lap, and then accounted for Ocon through turn four on lap 72.
That left Perez who, after running last early on due to an incident involving Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Red Bull's Max Verstappen, had produced a stunning drive to push himself into contention for the win.
That became assured when, with nine laps remaining Russell suffered a left-rear puncture that forced him back into the pits for a fourth stop, relegating him to 15th.
By the chequered flag, he at least clambered his way back into ninth and the first points of his career - as well as an extra for fastest lap - although he is under investigation given the faulty stop.
Crossing the line ahead of him was Perez who was in tears in becoming the first Mexican for 50 years since Pedro Rodriguez to win in F1, and on his 191st start - no driver in history has had to wait longer for a maiden win.
Perez was joined on the podium by Ocon and Stroll - the first double podium for the Racing Point team.
Remarkably, Perez remains without a drive for next season.
And yet at the start, it all went so wrong for the 30-year-old.
From second on the grid, Russell made a stunning start, while Bottas was left to fend off from behind a two-pronged challenge from Verstappen and Perez, who had both started on the soft tyres compared to the mediums for the Mercedes duo.
As Bottas squirmed his way out of turn three, the scene of Roman Grosjean's fiery crash in last Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix, he came under attack on the straight into the fourth corner.
In the middle of the sandwich, Verstappen braked early, allowing Perez to his outside to take advantage as he swept into the corner, only for the Mexican to be careered into by Leclerc who had aimed for a gap on the inside.
In a bid to take avoiding action, Verstappen had been forced onto the gravel, and as he attempted to get on the power it sent the Dutch driver into a barrier.
Leclerc's broken Ferrari had ended up alongside him for company, with Verstappen kicking the barrier in frustration after exiting the cockpit of his car.
Perez was forced into the pits for a front-wing change, as well as taking on fresh tyres, switching from softs to mediums, but dropped to 18th and last as the safety car was brought into play for five laps while the wreckage was cleared.
Russell, who had never led a lap in F1 prior to this race, then underlined his talent as he managed the safety car restart with maturity to pull away from Bottas who swiftly came under attack from McLaren's Carlos Sainz.
The Spaniard managed to scythe his way up to second into the first corner, albeit it was for a fleeting moment as he ran wide out of turn two to allow Bottas to reclaim the place.
By the time Russell made his first stop after 45 laps, switching to the hard tyres, he had lapped everyone up to 11th-placed Lando Norris in his McLaren, and was just over three seconds clear of Bottas.
By the time Bottas made his stop three laps later, the gap had increased to eight-and-a-half seconds, affording Russell a comfortable cushion to manage.
Then came Aitken's accident and the Mercedes mistakes to spark a frenetic finish.
Sainz took fourth ahead of Renault's Daniel Ricciardo, followed by Red Bull's Alex Albon, Daniil Kvyat in his AlphaTauri, Bottas, Russell and the second McLaren of Lando Norris.
In the battle for third in the constructors' championship, the 40-point haul for Racing Point means it now has a 10-point lead over McLaren going into the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi.
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