Only two races remain in the 2020 F1 world championship but this week’s second successive showdown in Bahrain, this time named the Sakhir Grand Prix, should be fascinating viewing.
World champion Lewis Hamilton is unable to bid for a repeat success after winning last week’s dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix after a positive Covid-19 test and Mercedes have made a fascinating move by replacing him with another British driver, George Russell, who has impressed at the back of the grid for Williams in the last two seasons.
Russell has been part of the Mercedes junior driver programme and this is a perfect opportunity for him to show he deserves a permanent race seat in the future.
Russell has yet to score a world championship point but he has regularly dragged a weak car further up the grid than it has any right to be and some of his Saturday qualifying efforts have been sensational – he has out qualified his teammate Nicholas Latifi in every race this season and qualified 14th last week before finishing 12th.
15/4 to win the race after jumping into last week’s triumphant car and he should be expected to give a good account of himself and contend for a podium finish at least.
Verstappen and Bottas Scrapping for Second Place
Max Verstappen, second to Hamilton as the British star won his fifth successive race and his 11th of the season last week, has a perfect chance to strike with Hamilton off the scene but the more established Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, will be thinking the same thing.
The pressure is on Bottas to deliver in comparison to Russell and he has the advantage of much greater familiarity with the car, although he did not seem to enjoy racing at Sakhir last week, when he qualified second but could finish only eighth after an early puncture saw him drop to 16th.
With Verstappen also collecting the bonus point for setting the fastest lap, he trails Bottas by just 12 points with two races left.
Interestingly, Verstappen’s sole win this season, at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, came when the field were racing at a track for the second successive week.
New Faces Further Down The Grid
While Russell is changing cars, there are two brand new faces further down the grid with another Brit, Jack Aitken, getting his first F1 outing in Russell’s Williams, while Pietro Fittipaldi replaces the injured Romain Grosjean at Haas after the Frenchman’s miraculous escape from his fiery crash last week.
Aitken was runner-up to Russell in the 2017 GP3 series and has generally been a midfield runner in GP2 for the last three seasons.
Fittipaldi, grandson of two-time world champion Emerson, will be getting his first F1 experience. Neither new recruit is likely to be in contention for a points finish.
Repeat Venue Is Not Quite What It Seems
While taking place at the same circuit as the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Sakhir event is using a new, shorter track layout with only 11 turns and lap times of under one minute are expected.
The changes should even up the playing field between drivers of different experience levels and add interest with both qualifying and the race to be held under floodlights at night.
*All odds correct at time of writing