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Mika Häkkinen: "Perez's victory proves that anything remains possible in Formula 1"

Mika Häkkinen: "Perez's victory proves that anything remains possible in Formula 1"

Mika with a look at the Bahrain Grand Prix, which saw a shock win for Sergio Perez.

SERGIO Perez’s victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix on Sunday goes to prove that, in Formula 1, anything remains possible. The difference between success and failure is very small.  When we look back on this race it is strange to think that Sergio’s pit stop following the first corner accident with Charles Leclerc actually gave him a better race strategy, while George Russell’s potential race win came to an end as the result of a simple miscommunication at Mercedes.

Formula 1 has been very fortunate to have a World Championship at all this year, but thanks to the brilliant work of the management in London, together with all the teams and circuit owners, we have avoided the worst effects of Covid. So many other sporting events have been cancelled.

In Formula 1’s case this has meant racing on some new tracks, so in the case of Bahrain I thought it was fascinating to see the second race take place on this very short, fast outer circuit. With a lap time much less than 1 minute, this put a lot of pressure on teams and drivers in my opinion - including on making very fast decisions during the race. This added to the pressure.

We have seen some drivers affected by Covid - notably both Sergio and team mate Lance Stroll at Racing Point - but the news that Lewis Hamilton had contracted it really shows that, no matter who you are or how careful you are, this virus is ready to attack. It was quite shocking to hear that the new World Champion could not race last weekend, and I wish him a quick recovery.  

It did, however, mean that Formula 1 was always likely to have a very different looking weekend, the first time since 2006 that we have not had the multiple-World Champion in the mix.

I knew that George Russell would perform well for Mercedes because he is a talented, experienced driver and this was a fantastic opportunity.

In common with Valtteri Bottas he is a former GP3 Champion, in George’s case going on to win the Formula 2 title, before following in Valterri’s footsteps into Williams. Williams does not currently have a competitive car, but they remain a good team, with ‘big team’ mentality, systems and processes. They also use the same Mercedes Benz power unit, so from my point of view the step from a Williams to Mercedes is not as big a jump as some imagine.

Of course the Mercedes car is a lot quicker, and George did a great job in practice to get on top of it. I know from my own experience that when you have been driving an uncompetitive car, as was the case with Team Lotus in 1991 and 1992, you cannot wait to jump into something quick and show what you can do. People still ask me about my first drive for McLaren, when I out qualified Ayrton Senna in Portugal 1993, but I can tell you I was so happy to finally have a quick car, driving flat out was no problem at all!

With Valtteri doing exactly what was required to qualify on pole, and George starting 2nd, this looked very much like a Mercedes’ race. The only real threat, as usual, came from Max Verstappen who had looked really good on long runs during Friday, but that first lap accident caused by Charles Leclerc eliminated both the Red Bull and Ferrari on the spot.

Charles did a fantastic job to qualify 4th for Sunday, really giving his Ferrari team a boost, but the mistake on lap 1 was really unfortunate. It’s important to be patient in this game, especially on a dusty, sandy circuit.

The fact hat Charles’s car hit Sergio’s Racing Point turned out to be critical, because in immediately coming in to the pits to check for damage, and change from soft to medium tyres, the Mexican driver was suddenly on a much better race strategy.

Sergio’s progress, from last through to the top 3, was really impressive. Guys like Red Bull’s Alex Albon and Esteban Ocon, who finished 2nd, are not going to make it easy to overtake, but Sergio’s race pace was very strong. He put himself in the perfect position to take the lead when both Mercedes drivers hit trouble.

Whatever way we look at it, this race was heading for a Mercedes 1-2 until lap 60, and the decision to ‘double stack’ the pit stop was the right one as soon as the team saw Jack Aitken’s accident in the Williams produce a Safety Car.  Although the Mercedes cars had a big lead, the team wanted to take advantage of having a ‘free’ pit stop.

The tyre mechanics in Formula 1 have a tough job to do. Making sure the right sets of tyres are available at the right time and place, at the right temperature and pressure, no matter what happens. We have seen mistakes before - such as in 2016 when Daniel Ricciardo lost the Monaco Grand Prix due to the tyre not being ready during a critical pit stop - and it only requires one mistake.

The miscommunication which resulted in George’s car being fitted with two of Valtteri’s tyres, and then Valtteri being returned to the track on the same set of used hard-compound tyres, was a combination of things.  Technology not working exactly the way it needed to, and a team under pressure to make a quick decision. It is so easy to miscommunicate over the radio systems, especially if one channel - such as the driver’s channel - takes priority over another.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had radio communication problems, including while leading a race. Normally you have time to check, double check and ask for confirmation, but on a 54 second lap such as we had in Sakhir, there was a lack of time. I am sure that Mercedes will learn from this experience, but it was a huge disappointment for both George and Valtteri.  

George also suffered a puncture later on, of course, but Sergio looked in control and there were not many laps of the race remaining. This is a famous win for Sergio, and with Lance coming 3rd it is a day that the Racing Point team, together with owner Lawrence Stroll, will never forget. It seems that Sergio has options to continue in Formula 1, perhaps in 2022, but I am very happy for him after so many years of hard work and dedication.

I am sure that Sebastian Vettel, who replaces Sergio and joins the team in just a few weeks, noticed the victory as well!

Three other points from the weekend. First of all I thought the new drivers, Jack Aitken and Pietro Fittipaldi, did a good job despite being dropped in at the deep end. Secondly, I am sorry to hear that Romain Grosjean will not return to race in F1 following his big accident in the Bahrain Grand Prix.  It is the right decision, but a pity for him that things have ended this way. Still, he is safe and able to return to his family and enjoy a future in racing.

Thirdly, a big congratulations to Mick Schumacher on winning the Formula 2 Championship. He has done a fantastic job in F3 and F2 to earn his place in Formula 1 next season, and I know his family are very proud of his achievements already. It will be very cool to see the Schumacher name back in Formula 1, and I wish him well at Haas.

Finally, we now head to Abu Dhabi for the last race of this strange 2020 season. It is not yet clear whether Lewis will be fit and able to return, so we do not know if Valtteri will have George beside him again or not. What is clear is that, whatever happens, Formula 1 has one final opportunity to give us some great racing before the holiday season begins.




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Mika Häkkinen
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