Bahrain GP: Lewis Hamilton braced for battle as Sunday's race promises duels and jeopardy
Watch the Bahrain GP live on Sky Sports F1 at 2.10pm with build-up from 12.30pm; Lewis Hamilton starts on pole from Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen but drivers braced for wheel-to-wheel battles and tyre concerns in the desert
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 29/11/20 12:39pm
Lewis Hamilton is braced for another battle with Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen in today's Bahrain GP - although that is where the 2020 familiarities could stop as Formula 1 heads under the lights for a race which is always competitive, and always throws up strategy conundrums.
The Bahrain GP, live on Sky Sports F1 at 2.10pm with build-up from 12.30pm, is the first of three consecutive races to finish the season and has all the ingredients to be a cracker.
The Sakhir circuit, where F1 has raced since 2004 and under floodlights since 2014, always seems to encourage wheel-to-wheel battles - there were 76 overtakes during last year's race - and those may be at the sharp-end of the grid today with Mercedes expecting Red Bull to be a threat.
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Red Bull's Verstappen, the only driver to have beaten newly-crowned seven-time F1 champion Hamilton in a session this weekend, starts third - where two of the last three races in the desert have been won from.
For these final three races of the season, we are fortunate to not have the pressure on us anymore but that does not mean we can take the foot off the gas. Tomorrow will be a battle as always and I wouldn’t want it any other way. pic.twitter.com/lriNOODj7X— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) November 28, 2020
"The Red Bulls and Max have been incredibly fast this weekend, as we've seen through practice," said Hamilton, who is aiming for his 11th win of the season and has spoken of letting loose with the title pressure off.
"I think maybe in the race they're potentially faster than us, so we will see that. Hopefully it's close between us."
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With the 2020 titles decided, there is also the prospect of Bottas attacking Mercedes team-mate Hamilton from the front row, while Alex Albon - starting fourth for just the third time this season - could join the fight with Verstappen.
There is the added intrigue of strategy unknowns, with a one-stop race - which has been common in F1 2020 - not thought to be possible due to the Bahrain heat and tyre degradation.
"We're definitely going to see two and three stops," said Sergio Perez - the in-form Mexican who starts fifth for Racing Point.
Pierre Gasly (eighth on the grid), meanwhile, admitted: "I think it's going to be quite an unusual race in terms of strategy. I think we're going to see some different things."
Perez heads the midfield fight, although Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon are intent on chasing him down both for personal pride and for Renault's hopes of leapfrogging Racing Point and McLaren for third.
Lando Norris starts ninth for the Woking team, while Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc - who dominated much of last year's Bahrain GP - will line up 11th and 12th on the grid.
Bahrain GP provisional grid
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
3) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
4) Alexander Albon, Red Bull
5) Sergio Perez, Racing Point
6) Daniel Ricciardo, Renault
7) Esteban Ocon, Renault
8) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
9) Lando Norris, McLaren
10) Daniil Kvyat, AlphaTauri
11) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
12) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
13) Lance Stroll, Racing Point
14) George Russell, Williams
15) Carlos Sainz, McLaren
16) Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
17) Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
18) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
19) Romain Grosjean, Haas
20) Nicholas Latifi, Williams