Ferrari protege Shwartzman dominates Bahrain sprint race

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Bahrain, Bahrain International Circuitbh

Ferrari-backed Prema driver Robert Shwartzman took a dominant victory in the Bahrain sprint race, leading the Sunday race from lights-to-flag in Sakhir for his fourth win of the season and his first since Round 7.

Pole-sitter Shwartzman and Yuki Tsunoda battled hard at the start, but the Russian managed to stay ahead. Starting from P7, Callum Ilott dropped back to P8 while Tsunoda had a puncture on the opening lap.

The puncture was a result of an earlier contact with Markus Armstrong. The Japanese driver was forced to pit to take fresh boots. He fed back into 21st upon his return while Shwartzman built up a gap of 1.7 on the opening two laps.

In the meantime, Nikita Mazepin showed great pace and overtook Schumacher on Lap 3, but the German fought back to retake the position. On the next lap, the Russian managed to get past the championship leader.

Trying to get closer to Schumacher in the Drivers’ Championship, Ilott was eager to improve his position. The Briton sized up Jack Aitken for P6 and slid past his compatriot to take the position. That manoeuvre meant that Ilott found himself directly behind Schumacher.

Theo Pourchaire pulled off to the side of the road after his fire extinguisher activated itself. The Safety Car was deployed to clear the track and move Pourchaire’s stricken car away.

After the restart, drama unfolded. Ilott attempted a way too ambitious manoeuvre to move ahead of Schumacher, but he locked up his tyres into Turn 10. Schumacher could steer his car to the right, but Ilott crashed into the back of Jehan Daruvala’s car. The Briton was forced to pit for a new front wing and was handed a drive-through penalty for the move.

Following the restart, Guanyu Zhou closed in on Schumacher who started to struggle with his tyres after he locked up his front tyres earlier. The Chinese driver made short work of firing past the German to take P5.

The German was under threat from Christian Lungaard and Felipe Drugovich, but managed to hold on while the Dane and the Brazilian started to battle it out hard.

Louis Deletraz, meanwhile, started to fly towards the sharp end of the field, enjoying the benefits of his much fresher tyres. The earlier pitstop started to pay dividends for the Swiss race who passed Drugovich, Lungaard, Schumacher, Zhou and Armstrong in the closing stages.

On the penultimate lap, Pedro Piquet had a problem and was forced to pull over after what could have been a podium finish for the Brazilian. The last lap also provided excitement as Lungaard swept past Schumacher to take sixth.

In the end, Shwartzman cruised to a fourth win of the season ahead of Mazepin and Deletraz. Armstrong retained fourth ahead of Zhou. Schumacher and Drugovich took the final two points places.

Shwartzman took his fourth F2 victory in Manama for which he had to wait since the Spa Sprint Race. The 21-year-old Russian was delighted with the setup work his Prema team has done following balance issues on Friday.

“I am happy to be back here - it took a while. This is my first win since Spa. I am really happy with the work that the team done, because we had a big problem with our pace at the beginning of the weekend. We finally managed to get better and during the race, everything was going well.

“There was a Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car, but I did a decent job at the restart, so in the end it was a comfortable race. A good job from the team and a big thanks to them,” Shwartzman concluded.

Schumacher leads the Drivers’ Championship with 205 points, 14 ahead of Ilott on 191. Mazepin is up to third with 162, ahead of Shwartzman 159 and Tsunoda on 157. In the Teams’ Championship, PREMA are first with 364 points, ahead of 316.5 and Hitech Grand Prix on 266. Carlin are fourth with 208 and ART Grand Prix fifth with 201.

The field will now only have a few days before the season finale takes places here in Sakhir, Bahrain on December 4-6.