A late 19-point swing in the Bahrain Grand Prix thanks to Sergio Perez’s retirement and a brilliant 4th and 5th for McLaren leaves the Woking-based team in a fantastic position with two just Grands Prix left. Let’s take a look at this titanic fight below.
💔— BWT Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) November 29, 2020
P3 – McLaren (171)
Yesterday’s Bahrain Grand Prix was a great one for the McLaren team. It didn’t look likely after a difficult qualifying saw Norris end up P9 and Sainz in P15 following his brake problems.
Norris got fortunate with the red flag as he had front wing damage following contact with Esteban Ocon on the first start at turn 2.
Nonetheless, the young Brit took full advantage of that reprieve. From 7th on the second start, he jumped Ricciardo and benefitted from the issues for Bottas and Perez to cross the line in P4; he deserves credit for his consistency and speed to be in the position to take advantage of it.
It was one of his strongest drives of the season and made up for his qualifying error.
Norris: “I guess a little bit lucky in some ways after the first start because I had some damage after having to avoid what would have been a crash. But we refocused and I did another very good start, and that set me up for a very good race.
“We had very good pace, and I knew we had that after yesterday, I just didn’t show it as much as I should have done,” Norris added. “I managed to show it today, and as a team, ending P4 and P5 was definitely not our expectation coming into today, so I think we can all be proud and happy of the job we’ve done and we kept pushing till the very end and got some more points, obviously, with the Racing Point not finishing. So, it was a good day for us.”
Carlos Sainz’s qualifying issues left him out of position, but he drove a superb race on Sunday to finish in a brilliant 5th. McLaren collected a valuable 22 points on the day to pile the agony on Racing Point.
13th on the second standing start, he worked his way up to P7 by lap 12, including a lovely move on future teammate Charles Leclerc; the Spaniard then overtook both Renaults and Gasly later in the race to finish a superb 5th.
Sainz: “A very good day, especially with how things were looking before the race, starting 15th, all of a sudden after the first stint, I was already up to P7 after making the soft last more than the medium runners and overtaking quite a few cars in that first stint, and that set up the rest of the race to be quite a good one and I’m very, very happy because it wasn’t easy out there today.”
P4 – Racing Point (154)
Racing Point had a nightmare Sunday under the lights at the Sakhir International Circuit.
Lance Stroll got flipped over by Daniil Kvyat at T8 on the second start and his race was over before it even started. The Canadian has scored just two points in his last six starts due to some bad luck and incidents.
However, Sergio Perez had looked set to keep Racing Point in third in the championship until an MGU-K failure on lap 54 brought his race to an end. It cost the team and himself fifteen points; it also should have been his second consecutive podium as he lost 4th in the Drivers’ Championship.
Had Perez made it to the end, Racing Point would have been two points ahead of McLaren with two races to go. Instead, they’re now 17 points adrift.
Yesterday was a tough pill to swallow, but we keep our heads up and focus our attention on the Sakhir GP and the battle for third in the Constructors' Championship. Another race week, another shot at that target 👊#SakhirGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/JrWDxR27Ob— BWT Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) November 30, 2020
P5 – Renault (144)
Renault are very much outsiders for 3rd in the teams’ standings. While Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon both scored points in Bahrain, they lacked the pace of Racing Point and McLaren around the Sakhir circuit.
The Enstone-based team didn’t help themselves by not implementing team orders sooner than they did as Daniel Ricciardo lost valuable time behind Esteban Ocon on two occasions yesterday. Had they done it sooner, the Australian would have passed Pierre Gasly for 6th place before the late-race Safety Car.
They also need to keep a wary eye on Ferrari who trail them by 13 points heading into the final two races, even if it’s very doubtful that the Italian giants will be competitive in the second Sakhir race.
Who will come out on top?
The extra millions of dollars you receive for 3rd compared to 4th or 5th is extremely valuable for these teams.
Racing Point have had a great car this year but they’ve managed to shoot themselves in the foot on multiple occasions through strategy. They have also been deducted 15 points back in August after FIA stewards upheld Renault's protest about the legality of the design of the team's RP20 car.
As well as that, there’s been bad luck for both drivers; Stroll and Perez have both missed races due to positive COVID-19 tests, too; it leaves them with a sizeable 17-point gap to McLaren with two events to go.
If Stroll can find his form from earlier in the season and Perez continues to shine, Racing Point could steal third. Two 4th and 5th place finishes are not out of the question with the pace that the RP20 has.
While Renault have a shot at 3rd, it seems almost impossible due to the gap to McLaren; the fact that Esteban Ocon has struggled on his return to F1 and had a number of technical issues hasn’t helped either.
McLaren must be hot favourites from here. If Norris and Sainz can both finish solidly in the points at Sakhir and Abu Dhabi, that should be enough if Mercedes and Verstappen lock out the podium.
Out of McLaren, Racing Point, Renault and Ferrari, the McLaren duo have comfortably been the closest in terms of points. While Racing Point, Renault and Ferrari have been led by one driver throughout most of the year, a single point separates Norris and Sainz.
Having two drivers who consistently deliver is absolutely critical. McLaren are in an incredibly strong position because of it. They should finish in the top 3 of the championship for the first time since 2012 when the season ends in 13 days.