Could we see a fresh face standing atop the podium at the Sakhir Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton was ruled out of Sunday’s race due to him entering self-isolation after a positive test?
Hamilton wrapped a record-equalling seventh world championship with his victory on the Turkish Grand Prix last month, and that did not result in him taking his foot off the gas in the very next race. The Mercedes star recorded his fifth straight race win and 11th Sunday success of the 2020 season as he took the chequered flag in Bahrain, but he will not have an opportunity to register win number 12 this weekend.
“I am devastated I won’t be racing this weekend,” Hamilton posted on his social media accounts. “Since we started the season in June my team and I have been taking all the precautions we possibly can and following the regulations everywhere we have been in order to stay safe. I am gutted not to be able to race but my priority is to follow the protocols and advice to protect others. I am really lucky that I feel OK with only mild symptoms and will do my best to stay fit and healthy.”
So who will capitalise on Hamilton’s absence to take the honours this weekend. George Russell will take Hamilton’s seat for the race and due to him being in a Mercedes he is considered an immediate contender, while Max Verstappen is also considered a front-runner having been one of just two non-Mercedes drivers to win a race this season. Pierre Gasly also has one 2020 race win to his name for this season, but for me the man to back has to be Valtteri Bottas.
The last couple of races have been miserable experiences for Bottas, who has finished down in 14th and eighth place, but he will have the best car on the track this week and he does have a solid overall record despite his recent slump. The Finn has won two races this season, making him the only man to have multiple race wins outside of Hamilton, while he has been a runner-up in two of the last four races and has finished on the podium on 10 occasions. He will face a tough challenge from Verstappen here, but Bottas should be able to hold him off.
I also expect Bottas to start from pole position. Hamilton has remained the dominant force on Saturdays this season, but Bottas does have four pole positions to his name and overall he has appeared on the front row in 12 out of the 15 races so far. Those are statistics that I simply cannot ignore so backing the Mercedes ace for a Pole Position/Race Winner double has plenty of appeal.
My other selection for Sunday’s race is backing Sergio Perez for a podium finish. The Mexican let me down when he finished down in 18th place last time out, but I am putting that down to a bad day at the office because prior to that he had finished in the top seven in each of his previous six races, had finished runner-up in Tukey and had narrowly missed out on a podium spot in both Russia and Germany. Perez has been among the top six for much of the season and has flirted with the podium multiple times, so in Hamilton’s absence he has got a great opportunity for a top-three finish.