Sergio Perez celebrates his first F1 win in Bahrain

Ben's Abu Dhabi GP preview

By Ben Edwards
C4F1 commentator 

Last weekend’s incredible race in Bahrain will stay with me for a very long time. Going into my final event as C4F1 commentator, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude that such a dramatic encounter will always be on my shortlist of favourite broadcasts.

Having followed Sergio Perez’s career from his earliest exploits on the international motor racing scene, it was an honour to be able to call his first-ever grand prix victory.

But it would have been equally amazing to have called George Russell’s first win on his debut for Mercedes, a prospect lost through no fault of his own.

Fumbled pit stops and a punctured tyre snatched away Russell’s opportunity to emulate Max Verstappen’s debut win for Red Bull in 2016, but he still managed to add a completely fresh plot to this remarkable season.

A season of uncertainty

In March, we wondered if there would be a World Championship at all. As teams and drivers returned from Australia without having completed a lap of Melbourne, the pandemic was ruling all of our lives and putting everything in doubt. Yet the organisers of the sport sat down and gave the calendar a complete rethink. 

Contracts with promoters and circuits around the world had to be torn up and reconstructed. Even getting a deal with Silverstone proved tricky but compromises were made and a 17-race schedule was created.

It seemed optimistic and hardly anybody expected it to happen, and yet here we are just a few days away from Round 17 without a single race on that calendar having been cancelled. 

The regime that teams have had to work through and the protocols across various countries have not made it easy.

Understandably the calendar focussed on European events, minimising the need for extensive travel. And what a treat it has been to see circuits such as Mugello and Portimao host Formula One for the first time.

Old favourites and all-time classics

We saw some old favourites come back on the scene - Nurburgring, Imola and Istanbul and each of them provided drama. That epic race in Turkey, in slippery conditions, saw Lance Stroll lead the early stages only for Lewis Hamilton to turn it around, not only taking victory but wrapping up his record-equalling seventh world title.

Some of the more regular circuits also shone. Lando Norris became the youngest British driver to achieve an F1 podium in the first race of the year in Austria and Pierre Gasly recorded his first-ever win at the all-time classic venue that is Monza.

And now it all comes to an end in Abu Dhabi which has hosted the season finale for the last seven years. 

While Hamilton and Mercedes have already wrapped up the titles, there are still some intense battles to enjoy in this last encounter.

Sergio Perez has put himself back into fourth place in the driver standings thanks to the win in Bahrain, but Daniel Ricciardo has a chance of overhauling him. And the teams they drive for, Racing Point and Renault, are fighting with McLaren for third place in the constructors championship.

Valtteri Bottas is not fully safe in runner’s up spot as Max Verstappen could steal it away if the Finn has a repeat of his dramas from last week. 

Verstappen has suffered a total of five non-finishes this year with two of them being first-lap incidents which he had little opportunity to avoid. Only one victory came his way and yet he has driven superbly and kept the pressure on Mercedes, performing at a standard that has often matched Hamilton. 

Charles Leclerc showed similar ability in qualifying even if he did make a few too many errors in the races.

And George Russell shone like a beacon in the Sakhir Grand Prix, but as it stands right now, we don’t know if he’ll get a second throw of the dice.

It all depends on Hamilton’s state of health; from becoming a seven-time World Champion to having to self-isolate and watch someone else almost win in his car must have created some very mixed emotions. But then 2020 has been a roller coaster for us all. 

Time to say goodbye

F1 has delivered a wonderful distraction from such difficult times for so many people and it has been a privilege to be part of that.

When I call ‘Lights Out’ in Abu Dhabi, I shall be savouring every moment. And when the lights go out in the broadcast centre, I shall walk away very happy to have been involved in such a dramatic season.

Join the C4F1 team for highlights of qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at 4:30pm on Saturday 12th December with race highlights and analysis from 5:30pm on Sunday.