Lewis Hamilton won an eventful Bahrain Grand Prix in which Romain Grosjean was involved in a horrific first-lap accident that he was lucky to walk away from.
Hamilton crossed the line to capture his 95th race win but that paled in significance as the Formula 1 world was served a reminder of the inherent dangers this sport presents.
Coming out of turn three and onto the straight, the Haas of Grosjean clipped Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri before smashing into the trackside barrier, splitting in two, and bursting into flames.
Luckily, the circuit medical team and marshals were on hand to help the Frenchman as he rose from the inferno and, somehow, escaped with only minor injuries.
After a lengthy delay, racing resumed briefly before an incident involving Lance Stroll and Kvyat brought the safety car out and forced the Canadian to retire.
At the same time, Valterri Bottas’ race unraveled. The Finn picked up a puncture that relegated him to the back of the pack and would eventually trail to the finish in eighth.
Ahead of him Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly got the most out of their respective packages in seventh and sixth, while McLaren took a big step towards securing third place in the Constructors’ Championship with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris finishing fifth and fourth respectively.
In third for the majority of the race after a good start, Sergio Perez looked on course to secure his first back-to-back podium result before his engine blew up with just four laps to go.
And his loss was Alex Albon‘s gain as the Red Bull driver was the grateful recipient of a very timely podium.
But up front, the top-two of Hamilton and Max Verstappen were untouchable.
Long heralded as the sport’s best drivers, they opened up a gap of over 20 seconds to Perez in third before the Mexican’s unfortunate retirement meant the race had to finish behind the safety car.
Hamilton now leads the Drivers’ Championship by over 130 points from his team-mate who is locked in a battle with Verstappen for second.
Elsewhere Ricciardo leapfrogged Perez into fourth as the Racing Point team endured a day to forget.
Bahrain GP as it happened
All 20 drivers seemed to get away cleanly and at the front Hamilton hooked up his start to perfection.
Conversely, his team-mate was swamped by those behind him and fell to sixth, but before the race could really get going, the red flag was out after Grosjean was involved in one of the worst crashes you’re ever likely to see.
In an attempt to overtake, the Haas driver veered across the circuit and clipped the front-left tyre of Kvyat which redirected him into a high-speed collision with an unforgiving barrier.
Such was the impact that the car split in half before igniting into flames in a scene more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster.
Paddock experts were quick to stress that Grosjean may well have lost his life were it not for the halo.
The once-criticised safety structure opened a hole in the guard rail which prevented the Frenchman’s head from taking the brunt of the contact.
Swarmed by fire, Grosjean escaped from the cockpit before being helped to safety by Alan van der Merwe – the medical car driver who was on the scene instantly – and the circuit marshals who doused both car and driver with fire extinguisher.
We are so thankful that Romain Grosjean was able to walk away from this. We did not need a reminder of the bravery and brilliance of our drivers, marshals, and medical teams, nor of the advances in safety in our sport, but we truly got one today#BahrainGP 🇧🇭 #F1 pic.twitter.com/z8OeTU5Nem
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 29, 2020
Miraculously, it was reported that the Haas driver suffered only minor burns to his wrists and ankles as well as a broken rib or two.
After a 90-minute delay to replace the destroyed barrier, the race resumed from a standing start.
But less than a lap later, another incident caused further disruption. Once again Kvyat was involved and earned a 10-second penalty for upending Lance Stroll and bringing out the safety car.
Running in fourth after picking up two places during the red flag, Bottas was on the wrong end of more bad luck.
Moments after the safety car picked up the pack, the Finn was informed he had a puncture with the resultant pit-stop ruining his chances of a good result.
We would eventually get some racing when the safety car came in at the end of lap eight and up front, Hamilton and Verstappen quickly put some space between themselves and Perez in third.
Hamilton’s lead was over five seconds when he pitted for another set of mediums at the end of lap 19 and Verstappen followed suit the next time round.
However, Red Bull opted for the hard tyres in a bid to bridge the performance gap with an alternative strategy.
But Mercedes, and Hamilton, were in a league of one. A late stop allowed Verstappen the consolation of a fastest-lap point but the win was never really within their grasp.
There was late drama, however, as with just four laps to go, an engine failure forced Perez to retire when he was on course to finish on the podium in consecutive races for the first time in his career.
The Mexican, who is fighting for his place on the grid next year, hadn’t put a tyre out of place before being cruelly denied another top-three result.
And who was the grateful recipient? Albon in the Red Bull – the man Perez is hoping to replace.
The safety car also came at a crucial moment for the Renault of Ricciardo, who picked up late damage to the floor of his car, and was subsequently able to bring it home in seventh.
In the other Renault, Esteban Ocon finished an underwhelming ninth, while Charles Leclerc rounded out the points in 10th for a Ferrari team that struggled from start to finish.
But out front, Hamilton would not be beaten, and followed the safety car over the line for a win that never really looked in doubt.
That’s 95 now for the Brit, but this year’s Bahrain GP will be remembered for so much more than that as the issue of driver safety once again reared its ugly head.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 29, 2020
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