Last to first: Perez finally wins in F1 in Sakhir thriller

Sergio Perez has come from last to first for a sensational comeback win and maiden Formula 1 victory after a Mercedes pit stop blunder cost it a comfortable one-two finish.

The Mexican was punted off the road by an errant Charles Leclerc on the first lap as they battled for third. The crash put the Ferrari driver out of the race and clamed Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen as collateral, but Perez was able to continue, albeit in last place after a pit stop to replace his damaged tyres.

But equipped with fresh rubber Perez made mincemeat of the midfield. He made up seven places in five laps and continued his rise back up to third, an easy pass on his own teammate underlining his ferocious personal pace.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

Meanwhile the Mercedes cars were holding a comfortable lead. George Russell, the Williams regular standing in for the unwell Lewis Hamilton, had jumped pole-getting teammate Valtteri Bottas for the lead off the line and had been progressively growing his advantage, shading the more experienced Finn and setting himself up for a fairytale win on his Mercedes debut.

But the team’s comfortable race was undone by a series of catastrophic Mercedes mistakes beginning on lap 62.

A safety car to collect debris on the front straight triggered the team to stop both cars at the same time as a precaution, but some of the pit crew didn’t receive the call. Russell came in and was fitted with two of Bottas’s tyres by accident. Bottas, immediately behind him, was held at the box for almost 30 seconds as the team realised its mistake. Russell then had to be called back to correct the error.

It dropped Bottas to fourth and Russell to fifth with 18 laps to run when the safety car period ended.

Still Russell had race-winning pace. He made a gutsy pass past Bottas on lap 70 and was up to second just three tours later, but bad luck struck twice for the Briton, who picked up a puncture that required yet another stop, dropping him to 15th and out of contention.

Perez was left with a clear lead, and the Racing Point driver was able to stroke his car to the chequered flag to make himself the first Mexican to win a grand prix since Pedro Rodríguez in 1970.

“I’m speechless,” Perez enthused. I hope I’m not dreaming, because I dreamt so many years being in this moment.

“Ten years it took me. Incredible. I don’t know what to say.

“The luck has not been with us this year, but we finally got it.”

Following Perez home was a similarly emotional Esteban Ocon for his maiden F1 podium.

The Renault driver was passed by Perez shortly after the pair made their stops at around half distance and didn’t have the pace to keep up, but the result regardless came as a relief for the Frenchman, who has had a hard time competing with teammate Daniel Ricciardo this season.

“I cried on the [finish] line, that’s how much emotion is going through my mind,” he said. “It’s been a tough season on our side. Its hasn’t paid off all the time, but we never stopped pushing.”

Lance Stroll completed the podium for a Racing Point double rostrum. The Canadian conceded he didn’t have his teammate’s pace despite running third early in proceedings but celebrated the team’s best combined result since 1998, when it raced as Jordan.

“A part of me is a little disappointed because I could’ve won the race,” he said. “I just didn’t have the pace.

“All in all very happy for the team. it’s an unbelievable result, and first and third is exactly what we needed for the championship.”

Racing Point moved back into third in the constructors standings 10 points ahead of McLaren 22 points ahead of Renault.

Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo were disappointed to finish fourth and fifth, the pair having contended for third — which ultimately became victory — early in the race, but both their teams mistakenly made second pit stops during a virtual safety car approaching two-thirds distance that dropped them into traffic, which handed the eventual podium-getters a strategic advantage.

Thai driver Alex Albon endured another lacklustre weekend for Red Bull Racing. Having qualified a disappointing 12th, he was mired in a slipstream battle in the midfield for much of the evening until a late switch to the soft tyre gave him a chance to race up to sixth ahead of AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat, who finished close behind in seventh.

Stricken Mercedes duo Bottas and Russell trailed home eighth and ninth for a measly six points ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris in 10th, the Briton rising from 19th to 10th on the first lap and battling to hold his place thereafter.