Sergio Perez walked out onto the podium, holding the flag of his native Mexico. He stood and listened as “Himno Nacional Mexicano” played over the loudspeakers of Bahrain International Circuit. After that and the presentation of trophies, he picked up his champagne bottle and sprayed both Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll. When the celebrations died down, he sat on the top step of the podium with his head held down and soaked in what just happened.
Sergio Perez deserves this. A result he has deserved for so many years finally came his way.
One of the most underrated drivers in the paddock for much of his career did it, and he did it the hard way. Last on lap 1 to the top step of the podium. Take a bow. pic.twitter.com/987zAmdGF5
— Danny | #WeSayNoToMazepin (@DannyBrennan72) December 6, 2020
Perez didn’t dominate. In fact, he got turned on the first lap and wound up last. But he climbed back through the field and took advantage of Mercedes misfortune, both on and off-track, to win in Bahrain.
Perez took over the lead, after George Russell pitted under the Lap 62 safety car period, because he took Valtteri Bottas‘ tires. In the final 20 laps, Russell reeled him in, but made an unscheduled stop with 10 laps to go, because of a flat tire.
It’s his first career victory in 190 Formula 1 starts, and 10th career podium finish.
Ocon came home runner-up for his first career podium finish. Stroll rounded out the podium for the third time in his career, as well as second of 2020.
Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top-five.
Alex Albon, Daniil Kvyat, Bottas, Russell and Lando Norris rounded out the top-10.
Russell’s ninth-place finish was his first career points finish.
Bottas led the field to green at 12:13 p.m. ET. Russell out-braked him into Turn 1 to take the lead. Perez cut down across Charles Leclerc and spun out in Turn 4. Max Verstappen took evasive action, but ran across the gravel trap and slid into the tire barrier.
Back to green on Lap 7, Russell pulled away from Bottas and posted the first sub-60-second lap on Lap 8, at 58.14 seconds. He pulled to a 2.5-second lead, before he used up the good in his soft tires. Bottas, on medium tires, closed the gap to around 1.8 seconds. Russell pulled away, again, to a three-second lead.
He pitted from the lead on Lap 46, took hard tires. He radioed that he was losing power, but he kept running at speed and ate into Bottas’ lead. Sky Sports F1 reported it was nothing more than a sensor issue.
Meanwhile, Bottas pitted from the lead on Lap 50, and Russell cycled back to the lead. He pulled to an eight-second lead over Bottas.
After a virtual safety car period, Bottas closed the gap to five seconds.
Another virtual safety car period came out on Lap 61, after Jack Aitken hit a wall and lost his front wing. The lack of a gap in the running order turned it into a full-blown safety car period.
Mercedes double-stacked Russell and Bottas under the safety car. Bottas left pit road in fourth, after a 27.4 second stop. Moreover, Russell lost the lead, after he put on Bottas’ tires, and cycled out fifth.
Sergio Perez inherited the lead.
Back to green on Lap 69, Perez pulled to a three-second lead, before Russell overtook Ocon in Turn 4 for second on Lap 73.
After two laps, Russell closed in to two-and-a-half seconds.
Then a tire went flat.
He left the pits in 14th.
Meanwhile, Perez pulled away, unchallenged, to his first career victory.
What else happened
Nicholas Latifi stopped his car off-track in Turn 8 on Lap 55, which brought out a virtual safety car.
Aside from that, until the second safety car period, it was a standard Formula 1 race, where one driver led most of it.
Nuts and bolts
The race lasted one hour, 31 minutes and 15 seconds, at an average speed of 125.840 mph. There were four lead changes among three different drivers and two safety car periods.
Having clinched the title two races ago in Turkey, Lewis Hamilton missed this week’s race due to contracting COVID-19. Mercedes already clinched the constructors championship, but Racing Point’s double-podium finish moved it to third in the standings, over McLaren.
Formula 1’s season ends next week in Abu Dhabi.
Sergio Perez Main Image: Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images