2020 F1 preview: Sakhir Grand Prix

The start of December has been an eventful one for Formula 1, with 2020 world champion Lewis Hamilton missing this Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix due to a positive COVID-19 test. This is the first time in his career he will miss a race as his streak of winning the last five races will end on Sunday.

Williams driver George Russell will take his place as Jack Aitken will fill in for Russell. Also, as Romain Grosjean continues to recover from his horrific crash last week at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Pietro Fittipaldi will take his place on the starting grid.

This weekend’s race will be a first as they will race on the Bahrain International Circuit but this time, it’s the outer course. Instead of the 3.363 mile-layout, it will only be 2.202 miles with 87 laps. The lap times in the practices and qualifying have been under a minute, the only other time this has happened was the 1974 French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois.

Russell came into Saturday’s qualifying 36-0 in out-qualifying his teammate, earning him the nickname Mr. Saturday. Despite just filling in for Hamilton this week, he was effective, topping the first two practices and finished second in qualifying behind teammate Valtteri Bottas by only 0.026 seconds. It ended his streak but he is still starting on the front row, looking for his first career F1 points finish.

Even though all eyes will be on Russell for the Sakhir GP, this is a golden opportunity for Bottas to pick up his third win of 2020. This is the fifth time he won pole position but only won in one of those races (Austrian GP). He currently sits 12 points above Max Verstappen for second in the driver standings. He will look to hold off Verstappen, who will start third. Verstappen inched closer after his second-place finish last week, taking advantage of Bottas’ puncture as he was forced to settle for eighth place.

Charles Leclerc will start fourth, nine places above his teammate Sebastian Vettel. Leclerc is currently sixth in the driver standings, two points behind Sergio Perez and four behind Daniel Ricciardo for fourth place. Perez, who is still racing for the second Red Bull Racing seat in 2021, will start fifth as he looks to rebound from last week’s DNF due to an electrical issue. Ricciardo will start seventh as Renault sits fifth in the constructor standings, 10 points behind Racing Point and 27 behind McLaren.

Daniil Kvyat will start sixth, his highest qualifying result of the season and only the third time in 16 races he will begin in the top 10 of the starting grid. He is another driver racing for his seat next year as AlphaTauri is deciding between him and F2 phenom Yuki Tsunoda for the spot.

Carlos Sainz starts eighth, seven places ahead of his teammate Lando Norris. Sainz sits one point below Norris and is tied with Alexander Albon with 85 points in the driver standings. With Albon starting 12th and Norris 15th, this is a critical chance to gain some position in the standings.

Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll, the 10th and 11th drivers in the standings, round out the top 10. Gasly currently leads Stroll by 12 points.

If you are watching in the United States, coverage for the Sakhir Grand Prix will begin at 12:10 p.m. EST. You can catch the race on ESPN2.

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Course layout:

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