Heartbreak after colossal F1 calamity
Mercedes was on track to dominate the Sakhir Grand Prix even without Lewis Hamilton until confusion in pit lane crippled the team with a disastrous double blow.
Young gun George Russell was called up to replace seven-time world champion Hamilton, who was ruled out after contracting COVID-19, but his dream debut for the Silver Arrows turned into a nightmare.
Watch the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship™ on KAYO. Every practice, qualifying session and race LIVE. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >
Both he and teammate Valtteri Bottas were called into the pits and Russell arrived first. The Mercedes crew had double stacked fresh sets of tyres for both drivers, leading to confusion over which tyres were meant for which driver.
The support staff gave Russell a mixed set of tyres by accident, with one of them actually meant for Bottas.
Then when Bottas came into pit lane there was more trouble. A wrong tyre and a brake fire kept him stationary for 27 seconds and just like that Mercedes' race was also going up in smoke.
Russell had to come back in because you're not allowed to compete with a mixed set of tyres, the unscheduled pit stop costing him valuable time.
Bottas and Russell were leading the race before the drama but dropped from 1-2 to 4-5 after the horrible mix-up.
To his credit, Russell didn't give up and pulled off a sensational passing move on his teammate soon after as he remained in the hunt for his first ever podium finish in F1. However, with seven laps remaining, he was rocked by a killer blow.
The Brit was forced back into the pits after suffering a tyre puncture and his hopes were officially crippled. He dropped all the way to 14th and let out howls of anguish over the team before eventually finishing the race in ninth.
"I don't know what to say. That was taken away from us twice," he said. "I'm gutted, I'm absolutely gutted.
"Can't really put it into words to be honest. I've had races where I've had victories taken away from me, but twice? I couldn't believe it."
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff apologised to the new recruit and F1 journalist Luke Smith tweeted: "Heartbreaking. So, so cruel - George has been astonishing today."
The news wasn't any better for Bottas. His hard tyres were fading fast as the race wound down and he was being rapidly overtaken by rivals, slipping all the way to eighth as Mercedes blew a golden chance to once again spray champagne over two drivers on the podium.
Wolff was shattered when he fronted up to the Sky Sports cameras to explain what went wrong. He called it a "colossal f*** up" and said a radio failure in the garage meant there was a breakdown in communication between the tyre crews, leading to one of Bottas' tyres being fitted to Russell's car.
"I can't even watch this," Wolff said about replays of the incident. "These things happen and we need to learn from them.
"It was very emotional because if you're in your first race in a Mercedes and you should have won it for driving a monumental race, there's not a lot you can say.
"It's just the beginning of a fairytale that didn't work out today and I will say a new star is born."
Mercedes' loss was Racing Point's gain as Sergio Perez claimed a memorable debut win, while teammate Lance Stroll kept his nose ahead of some fast-finishing rivals to round out the podium in third for his second top-three finish of the season.
Renault's Esteban Ocon was second, celebrating his first ever F1 podium.
There were tears of joy in the paddock as emotions ran high for a suite of drivers not used to tasting the sort of success so often reserved for Hamilton, Bottas and Co.
Carlos Sainz was fourth and Aussie Daniel Ricciardo was fifth on a bright day for Renault, followed by Red Bull's Alex Albon (sixth) and Daniil Kvyat (seventh).
Amazingly, Perez doesn't even have a seat for next season after being told by racing Point he's unwanted in 2021. His win might convince a different suitor to come calling and offer him a career lifeline.
"It just gives me a bit more peace with myself, to be honest," Perez said. "What happens is not so much in my hands at the moment.
"But if I'm not on the grid next year, I'll be back in 2022."
Earlier, big dogs Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc were rubbed out after colliding in lap one. Verstappen accused the Ferrari star of diving on the inside and taking away the Dutchman's room, and Leclerc knew he was in the wrong, accepting blame for the mishap.
Originally published as Heartbreak after colossal F1 calamity