Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc are in the hunt for fourth place

Ben's Bahrain GP preview

By Ben Edwards
C4F1 commentator

The final chapter of this unique F1 season is upon us. 

A triple header in the Middle East that starts in Bahrain this weekend, holds camp for a follow-up seven days later and concludes in Abu Dhabi less than two weeks before Christmas.

At the Turkish Grand Prix the teams crossed the border into Asia to race outside Europe for the first time this year, and Lewis Hamilton made the most of it to claim that remarkable seventh world title.

But the battles within the grid are not over yet. Valtteri Bottas had a nightmare race in Turkey and could still be passed by Max Verstappen for the runner-up spot. The gap is 27 points and there are 78 available over the next three Sundays.

And just behind those two, the fight for fourth could go virtually anywhere. Sergio Perez holds the spot for now by three points from Charles Leclerc, but if Leclerc hadn’t out-braked himself into the last sequence of corners in Turkey, he would be topping that group.

Ferrari Infighting

Bahrain has both good and bad memories for Leclerc. Last year he achieved his first-ever pole position in only his second outing with Ferrari, beating Sebastian Vettel in qualifying by nearly three tenths of a second.

Vettel took the initial advantage in the race and Leclerc was told by the team to hang back. He ignored them, snatched the lead and went on to dominate until a mechanical problem cost him in the closing stages as first Hamilton and then Bottas went past.

He finished third, achieving his first-ever podium in a grand prix but victory had slipped away through no fault of his own, and he had to endure another 10 races before he was able to claim a debut win in Belgium.

Psychological Battles

This year’s Ferrari is not at the same level, but there have been some encouraging indicators that the technical crew is finding answers. 

Leclerc has qualified fifth or higher in three out of five of the most recent events.

His internal fire and motivation is fierce. His self-criticism after that last lap mistake in Turkey was brutal, but demonstrates just how much it means to him to deliver his best performance no matter where the car sits in terms of sheer pace.

The mindset of Perez seems just as focussed yet rounded with a sense of maturity, having experienced many ups and downs in his 188 Grand Prix starts. 

His second place in Istanbul matched the best of his career yet his future is still uncertain.

The Mexican has his own good memories of racing in Bahrain as he achieved a podium in what was his third race with his current crew in 2014 when it was racing under the Force India banner.

Colourful Memories

In theory, the Racing Point should be competitive on the Sakhir circuit. Straight-line speed and aerodynamic efficiency will count and the pink machine delivers in both areas. 

But there’s another strong threat for fourth place in the championship and it comes with a yellow flash.

Renault has won twice in Bahrain, back in the days of Fernando Alonso’s supremacy, and when the team raced with the black and gold Lotus livery in 2012 and 2013 it took a total of four podiums thanks to Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen.

Daniel Ricciardo is just one point behind Leclerc and four short of Perez. Turkey did not go well for him, he was only able to scrape home in 10th on that slippery surface which dropped him from fourth to sixth in the standings.

But he achieved two fantastic podiums in Germany and Imola, as a driver working in harmony with his team it feels as though he’s on top of his game. 

These three races will be his last with Renault before switching to the orange and blue of McLaren, but he wants to go in style.

Mind you, McLaren’s current drivers are still in the hunt for that fourth place as well. 

The gap to Carlos Sainz is a further 21 points with Lando Norris only one behind. And Red Bull’s Alex Albon, currently 100 points short of teammate Verstappen’s total, still has an outside chance of rocketing up the order.

The Sun Begins to Set

So this weekend sees the first of a Middle Eastern trio, and the first race of 2020 where floodlights will pick out the cars in darkness. 

It contains plenty of potential drama as that hugely competitive battle for fourth continues.

Yes, it’s not for the World Championship - and I agree that in a few years time we’ll probably forget who it was that finished fourth in 2020 - but I’m looking forward to the confrontation between some high quality competitors in the final races of this crazy year.

Join the C4F1 team for highlights of qualifying from the Turkish Grand Prix at 7:00pm on Saturday 28th November with race highlights and analysis from 9:00pm on Sunday.