F1 2020: Starting grid and race preview for Sakhir Grand Prix

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The absence of Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton and a rapid circuit makes the Sakhir Grand Prix one of the most intriguing races of the season.

Hamilton has already wrapped up a seventh drivers' title and Mercedes were crowned constructors' champions even earlier, but the Briton's positive coronavirus test and the Outer Track at the Bahrain International Circuit offering sub-one-minute lap times means the stage is set for an enthralling event.

Valtteri Bottas was understandably touted as the favourite and he lived up to his billing by qualifying on pole on Saturday, but with the top 10 in Q3 separated by less than a second there is little room for error.

Lights out is scheduled for 20:10 local time (17:10 GMT) on Sunday.

WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING

Bottas avoided the ignominy of being outshone by temporary team-mate George Russell - standing in for Hamilton at Mercedes - with the fastest pole lap in F1 history, though there was just two 0.026 seconds between the pair.

Max Verstappen again took the title of the best of the rest to start from P3, while Charles Leclerc was an impressive fourth for Ferrari.

Alex Albon is running out of time to save his Red Bull seat and could only manage a disappointing 12th, while Russell's absence at Williams means Nicholas Latifi (17th) out-qualified his team-mate for the first time in his F1 career – debutant Jack Aitken (18th) was a tenth slower than the Canadian.

THE STARTING GRID

1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), 2. George Russell (Mercedes)
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull), 4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
5. Sergio Perez (Racing Point), 6. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri)
7. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault), 8. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
9. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), 10. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
11. Esteban Ocon (Renault), 12. Alex Albon (Red Bull)
13. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), 14. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
15. Lando Norris (McLaren), 16. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
17. Nicholas Latifi (Williams), 18. Jack Aitken (Williams)
19. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), 20. Pietro Fittipaldi (Haas)

SAKHIR TALKING POINTS

Mercedes development driver Russell has impressed so far this weekend and will be eager to score his first F1 win with the team he will be hoping to drive for permanently in the future.

The fact Bottas is on pole will not necessarily hamper him either; on the 15 previous occasions the Finn has started from the front of the grid he has triumphed just five times, failing at the three most recent attempts.

While the Mercedes duo will start on the medium compound, Verstappen will get away on softs as the teams head into the unknown in terms of tyre management, with the 3.5-kilometre track meaning the drivers will have to complete 87 laps.

Prior to that, though, Mick Schumacher - the son of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher who will join Haas next season - will aim to sign off from Formula Two by securing the drivers' championship in the sprint race.

WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID

Valtteri Bottas (pole): "It didn't feel that easy to follow or pass so I'm really glad to be on the pole side and go from there. But hopefully we will see a fun race. It feels like a bit of a Mickey Mouse circuit, it's quite bumpy and twisty. Let's see. On a track like this you can't really make a difference, so the gaps are really small as you can see. I have to say George did a really good job. He was really building up to it and you could see the progress in qualifying. Really happy for us as a team that we can be one-two on the grid and it's another big achievement for us."

George Russell (2nd): "Obviously I've got nobody in front of me, which I've not experienced for a long, long time. It's going to be tricky. It's going to be really tricky. Qualifying is what I feel most comfortable with, it's balls out, everything you've got, and tomorrow you need a bit more control, a bit more finesse, and I just haven't had the experience yet. I'll give it my all and I'll see what I can do.

Max Verstappen (3rd): "Pole was on. After that first run I was two tenths behind so I knew it was going to be difficult but you always try to be as close as you can. At the end, to be within a tenth wasn't bad – but of course Valtteri didn't have a tow and didn't improve on his final lap. To be P3 is good for us I think on a track like this. I'm used to sitting in this chair. It might actually have my prints! I think at the end of this season, I'm going to take this seat home. It's very comfortable."

Charles Leclerc (4th): "I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do in the car, and I managed to do everything on my lap, so I'm extremely happy to be starting P4. Unfortunately by missing out FP2 I didn't do any race runs, so I'm going a bit into the unknown. But I'll give everything and see where we end up."

Alex Albon (12th): "It's all to play for though and we know overtaking is possible here plus we're running slightly more downforce than the others so hopefully we're better on our tyres. Our race pace looked pretty strong on Friday and we also have a free tyre choice so we'll have a long look at that and see what we can do. We just need to keep out of trouble at the start and then the plan is to fight through the field."

Sebastian Vettel (13th): "I generally had a good feeling driving the car so I don't really know what went wrong. Maybe on the straights I was losing a bit as well as in the middle sector. I was confident after Q1 but then we didn't make it. I don't know if this could be related to the power unit change. For sure my mechanics did everything well as the car was fine to drive. Taking care of the tyres will be difficult tomorrow but it could be the key to a good race. We will have a free choice of tyre for the start and we will see what we can do."

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 332
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 201
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 189
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) – 102
5. Sergio Perez (Racing Point) – 100

Constructors
1. Mercedes – 533
2. Red Bull – 274
3. McLaren – 171
4. Racing Point – 154 (after 15-point deduction)
5. Renault – 144


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