The Sakhir Grand Prix will be a race like no other after 2020 World Champion Lewis Hamilton was ruled out with a positive COVID-19 – an announcement that saw a driver shuffle like no other.
In a shock move from Mercedes and Williams, George Russell will line up in place of Lewis Hamilton, paving the way for Jack Aitken to make his debut in the Williams at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Did we also mention Haas reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi will make his debut in place of the recovering Romain Grosjean. With all of these changes what can we expect from the lightning-fast outer track?
On a circuit that is expected to produce sub-minute lap times and would traditionally be dominated by the straight-line speed of previous year’s Ferrari, the F1 fraternity is wondering if the team will be able to find some of the pace they have sorely missed this year.
Heading into the final two races of the 2020 season, the battle for third in the Constructor’s Standings is still raging. McLaren has managed to pull ahead thanks to a great performance from both Lando Norris (P4) and Carlos Sainz Jr (P5). This was bolstered by both Racing Point’s of Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez failing to finish last week’s Bahrain GP.
Racing Point will be looking to reset after their weekend and move ahead of the orange livery to get the opportunity to gain valuable and much needed points with two races remaining.
Behind them is Renault. The team is only 27 points away from third place after a relatively disappointing race last week.
Unbelievably, Ferrari can’t be counted out. The team will want to move up and salvage what they can from a historically disappointing season.
The battle is still too close to call.
With Lewis Hamilton out for at least this weekend the battle for second has only become more exciting. Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas will be looking to recover from a stint of races which have been riddled with errors and bad luck, and take second place behind Lewis Hamilton on the overall standings.
Redbull’s Max Verstappen is now only 12 points behind Bottas and will be looking to snatch second place. Even though it is not the Championship winning position he has been chasing, to split the Mercedes would be a fantastic result for Max considering the performance of the Mercedes W11 in 2020.
If Verstappen could sneak home with a silver medal, the Redbull driver would carry his current form in 2021 – a truly exciting prospect.
The battle for best of the rest is also heating up with only 31 points separating P4 from P10. Sergio Perez may have an excellent opportunity to edge ahead of other drivers with the pace that the RP20 has shown throughout the year possibly positioning him for a top 5 finish – and maybe staking his claims to extend his career in F1.
With the relative consistency for McLaren and both Norris and Sainz Jr having shown good pace throughout the year, the team will be looking for at least a repeat performance of last weekend from their cars.
While Williams-turn-Mercedes driver George Russell won’t be able to contend for the best of the rest, the opportunity for him to score his maiden points in the W11 will be occupying his thoughts throughout this race. It also gives him the opportunity to display his skill in the seat at the team he hopes to race for in the near future.
Replacement driver Jack Aitken steps into George Russell’s Williams for his F1 debut, providing another great opportunity for another young driver to display his skills.
Pietro Fittipaldi will be in the car for Hass this weekend. Fittipaldi has tested a number of times for both Hass and other teams over the years and it will be interesting to see how the VF-20 performs in his hands whilst Romain Grosjean recovers from his terrible accident.
Coverage of the Sakhir GP will begin on Friday night (AEDT) live on Fox Sports.
Words by Brandon Moritz