F1 2020: Russell waits in the wings again as Hamilton status unclear for Abu Dhabi

Hamilton secured a seventh Formula One world title by winning in Turkey last month but saw a five-race win streak halted after he contracted coronavirus.

The Briton won the Bahrain Grand Prix but missed the second race at Sakhir as he was required to quarantine, with Williams driver Russell drafted in as his replacement.

Russell felt like Sakhir GP win was taken away from him twice

A series of unfortunate events denied Russell what would have been a memorable victory, but should Hamilton not make it to Abu Dhabi a further opportunity could present itself.

Hamilton’s situation is doubly complicated as he is still under quarantine in Bahrain, while Abu Dhabi has its own strong restrictions. F1 does have an exception but the paddock was required to travel on Monday meaning Hamilton – who has his own private jet – would need to get dispensation.

LAST TIME OUT

Hamilton’s absence provided ample opportunity for the rest of the field and Russell was flying on his debut for the Silver Arrows.

After qualifying second, Russell appeared on course for victory until a costly pit-stop error dropped him to fifth and, having fought back to second, he suffered a puncture with 10 laps to go when chasing eventual victor Sergio Perez. He had to settle for ninth.

Perez had fought back from a first-lap spin to secure a maiden F1 victory on his 190th start – a record wait for a first win.

Esteban Ocon split Perez from his Racing Point team-mate Lance Stroll, while pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas finished back in eighth as a result of Mercedes’ gaffe in the pits.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen were expected to challenge for the win but both went out in the same incident that saw Perez spin on lap one.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN ABU DHABI

If, as many pundits suggested, last time out was a straight shoot-out between Russell and Bottas for a 2022 Mercedes drive then the former really enhanced his claims.

After the race Russell expressed his hope his performance has given Mercedes chief Toto Wolff a “headache” not just for 2022 but before.

Whether Russell is back with the Silver Arrows or at Williams this weekend remains to be seen but either way expect the Briton to put on a determined show.

Perez is, surprisingly, still without a seat for 2021 despite sitting fourth in the standings. He could yet still be employed by Red Bull as Verstappen’s team-mate but this could be the last time we see the Mexican on the grid until 2022.

Verstappen and Leclerc will want to finish strongly after their disappointment last time out, while Sebastian Vettel drives for Ferrari for the last time this weekend before racing for Aston Martin next year.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Better late than never – The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 13 will be the third latest date for an F1 race in history after South Africa in 1962 and 1963.

Valtteri’s pole woe – Bottas has failed to win 11 of the 16 races in which he started from pole position, including the last four grands prix (68.75 per cent).

No stoppin’ Verstappen in qualifying – The Dutchman is the only driver on the grid to have beaten his team-mate in every qualifying session this season (16-0 over Alexander Albon).

Say goodbye to Sergio – Perez needs to reach the podium in Abu Dhabi to guarantee finishing fourth in championship this year, the best place in a year for a Force India/Racing Point driver

A fitting swansong for Vettel? – Vettel has more victories on Asian circuits than any other driver in F1 history (29). His last win was in Singapore (2019).

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 332

2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 205

3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 189

4. Sergio Perez (Racing Point) – 125

5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) – 112

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 540

2. Red Bull – 282

3. Racing Point – 194 (after 15-point deduction)

4. McLaren – 184

5. Renault – 172

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