Leading Formula One commentator Martin Brundle believes the sport is facing “two uncomfortable truths” following Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
Sergio Perez claimed his maiden victory at his 190th attempt, eclipsing Mark Webber’s record for the longest wait before a first win.
The other intriguing storyline to emerge from the race was the performance of Lewis Hamilton’s stand-in, George Russell, who held a comfortable lead for much of the race and arguably showed up regular Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.
Russell came into the sport on the back of championship wins in both GP3 (now Formula 3) and Formula 2 in consecutive years, but had never finished in the top 10 in F1 in 36 races with Williams. His transformation from back of the grid to the front is a stark reminder that no matter how much talent a driver has, his results are very much car-dependent.
While Russell highlighted just how much a car dictates a driver’s results, Perez faces the prospect of being out of a drive after this weekend’s Abu Dhabi race, with Sebastian Vettel already signed as his replacement.
“We have to absorb two uncomfortable truths,” Brundle wrote in his column for Sky Sports.
“Perez doesn’t have a drive next year and a change of car moved a driver from a perennially lapped second half of the grid to a potential race winner in seven days.”
The Mercedes driver situation was complicated by Russell’s performance in Bahrain. While Hamilton is yet to sign for 2021, it’s considered a mere formality that he’ll continue with the team. Bottas already has a contract for next year, while Russell is locked in at Williams.
Brundle said the move to install Russell as Hamilton’s replacement, rather than the team’s official reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, was a smart move by team boss Toto Wolff.
“With Hamilton playing hard to get regarding a signature on a new contract, and doubts whether Valtteri Bottas was really stepping up to the plate lately despite his miserable luck, George would answer a few questions one way or the other,” he wrote.
“And so it proved to be as he assuredly led the race after a perfect start, and without being entirely comfortable inside the car or fully up to speed with all of its systems, Russell dramatically raised his own value and opportunities, capped Hamilton’s, and dented Bottas’.”
The future of Perez is even more intriguing. Having finally won his first race, he faces the prospect of being without a drive after this weekend’s Abu Dhabi race.
The only viable alternative is the vacant spot alongside Max Verstappen at Red Bull, although Alex Albon is being given every opportunity to retain his seat.
Perez has already floated the idea of a year out of the sport before a return in 2022.
Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s Managing Director, wrote in his weekly column that Perez’s departure leaves a big hole for Vettel to fill.
“We all want to see him (Perez) next year,” Brawn wrote.
“It’ll be a tragedy if he can’t get a car. The team must be thinking about the decisions they have made, losing him when he’s driving so well.
“His replacement Sebastian Vettel I’m sure will come back stronger, as he’s in a bit of a trough at the moment, but Checo is a guaranteed deal.
“So that’ll be interesting to see how that develops. In a way, Seb has some fairly big shoes to fill now, even if he’s a world champion.”
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