By Shwetha Surendran
BU News Service
The start of the Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2020 might have seemed like the same story on a different day – Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes bolting off the start line, teammate Valtteri Bottas getting engulfed by the ensuing pack and a chaotic midfield.
But a few turns into the 57-lap race, an unfortunate incident saw Romain Grosjean’s Haas veer right into the path of AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat. The crash pitched the Haas straight into the barriers.
The horrifying crash saw Grosjean’s car tear apart and explode into flames. While the race was immediately red-flagged and the rest of the grid filed into the pit lane, there was a collective sense of relief as a visibly-shaken Grosjean leaped out. He had been stuck in his burning cockpit for over 10 seconds.
The French driver, 34, was flown out to a hospital for suspected broken ribs and burns. The team later confirmed in a statement that all X-rays completed showed no fractures or breaks for Grosjean.
The track marshals cleared the Haas’ remains and replaced the broken barriers with concrete blocks. After an hour’s delay, the race started again.
But the restart didn’t see a full lap of racing, as Kvyat was yet again involved in a first-lap incident, this time with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll. The contact saw the Stroll’s car flip over, leaving him hanging from his seat. He emerged unscathed.
The safety car was brought out, and the stewards subsequently handed Kvyat a hefty 10-second penalty for ‘causing a collision.’
With 18 cars remaining on track, racing re-commenced with Hamilton in the lead and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen close behind. Bottas’s day went from bad to worse as he picked up a puncture from the debris strewn across the track. A tire change dropped him to the back of the grid.
With Verstappen running in second and Alexander Albon in fourth, Red Bull had two cars fighting against Hamilton for the win. But an attempt to undercut the race leader came undone with a botched five-second pitstop on Verstappen’s car.
As the lead remained unchallenged, a little farther back luck ran out for the sole remaining Racing Point driver Sergio Pérez, who was having an exceptional race in third place. Smoke billowed out of his car on lap 54 of 57, causing a late retirement. This turn of events gave Albon his second podium of the season.
While it was a weekend to forget for Racing Point, it was quite the opposite for McLaren, with Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. finishing fourth and fifth. This massive haul of points takes them ahead of Racing Point in the fight for third in the Constructors’ Championship.
Pérez’s bad luck also favored Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who scored a single point for the team as teammate Sebastian Vettel languished in 13th. Surely there’s no love lost between the pair, as Leclerc’s opportunistic first-lap move on the inside of his teammate left Vettel ranting on the radio to his engineer.
Ferrari’s shocking drop of pace in 2020 has only been further highlighted in Bahrain, a track where they dominated in 2019.
The helter-skelter race ended with Hamilton taking his 11th win of the season, and the Red Bull duo completing the podium places. But on a day where a car was ripped in two – and another flipped over – the real winners were the halo, the field marshals, and the FIA medical personnel – Dr. Ian Roberts and Alan van der Merwe.
Two races remain on the calendar, and they continue in the desert. Tune in next week as teams take on the exciting new outer track layout at the Formula One Rolex Sakhir Grand Prix 2020.