The penultimate round in the rearranged Formula One season sees a return to Sakhir for a second successive weekend – only this time things are definitely going to be different.
Lewis Hamilton was victorious at the Bahrain Grand Prix to make it five on the spin, equalling the best winning streak of his stellar career.
However, this year's world champion will not have the chance to go for a sixth straight triumph after a positive COVID-19 test ruled him out of competing at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
His absence opens the door to others – most notably his temporary replacement, George Russell – as the drivers face up to a new track configuration at the venue for a late-night race.
Romain Grosjean will also not be taking part following his horrific crash last time out, though the Frenchman is thankfully now out of hospital and could yet return to his seat with Haas for the 2020 finale, which takes place in Abu Dhabi on December 13.
Sending good vibes and best wishes to you, LH We're gonna miss you this weekend, but we know you'll be watching on TV, cheering us on! pic.twitter.com/yxJgKv8BKh— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 2, 2020
LAST TIME OUT
Hamilton was rarely troubled as he secured an 11th triumph in another dominant campaign, though the Bahrain race will always be remembered for Grosjean's smash on the opening lap.
His car split in two as it went through a barrier before bursting into flames. While he suffered burns to his hands, Grosjean was thankfully able to walk away from the astonishing scene.
Haas' team boss Guenther Steiner praised the response of the medical car and the marshals in the immediate aftermath of the incident, while the safety measures put in place by the FIA were also universally praised, particularly the addition of the halo to cars.
Grosjean, incredibly, may be back for what seems set to be an F1 swansong for him in the season-ending GP, as Haas have now confirmed Mick Schumacher – son of F1 legend Michael – and Nikita Mazepin will be their driver line-up for 2021.
A lengthy delay for repair work to be completed on the damaged barrier did not hinder Hamilton, with the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon joining him on the podium.
Never thought that a few body weight squats would make me happy. Body recovering well from the impact . Hopefully same about the burns on my hands.— Romain Grosjean (@RGrosjean) December 1, 2020
Thank you again to everyone for the messages.
Ps: still very slow at typing #r8g pic.twitter.com/PHr5nMZsZG
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN SAKHIR
Hamilton's absence offers Mercedes a potential glimpse into the future as they turn to Russell, a driver who has long had links with the Silver Arrows.
Williams have allowed the Briton to switch seats for this week, with reserve Jack Aitken stepping up for them to partner Nicholas Latifi.
While Russell will be determined to impress following the temporary move, Valtteri Bottas has the chance to step out of Hamilton's shadow after finishing 14th and eighth in his previous two outings.
F1 drivers are hardly strangers to Sakhir at night, but the changes could present opportunities for others to shine under the lights.
The outer circuit is shorter in distance to the grand prix version at the venue, meaning the cars will have to do 87 laps, rather than the 57 required a week ago. Longer sections could allow for greater overtaking opportunities, with Russell himself recently predicting proceedings will be "bonkers".
He's preparing for a race weekend with @MercedesAMGF1, filing in for Lewis Hamilton at Sakhir— Formula 1 (@F1) December 2, 2020
Prediction time - where will @GeorgeRussell63 finish in qualifying and in the race? #SakhirGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/5OZdw8HVVg
TOP FIVE OPTA STATS
Barren run for fallen giants – It has been a tough season for Ferrari, who are winless in their last 21 races. That is their seventh worst run in F1 ever but their third in this century, after a 35-race streak between 2013 and 2015 and then 28 GPs between 2015 and 2017.
By George! Can he do it? – Russell could be the second driver to win his maiden race for Mercedes, after Juan Manuel Fangio in France 1954.
Feeling right at home – Sebastian Vettel is the driver to have won the most races in Asia (28) in F1 ever, his career tally on the continent putting him one clear of Hamilton.
Make it count in qualifying – All race winners in Bahrain have started from the first two grid lines (in 16 previous editions), though this time there is a different layout to contend with.
Bottas' big chance – The Mercedes driver has won only five races from his 15 pole positions (33.3 per cent). Hamilton, meanwhile, has triumphed on five of the previous six occasions when Bottas has failed to prevail from first on the grid.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 332
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 201
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 189
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) - 102
5. Sergio Perez (Racing Point) – 100
1. Mercedes – 533
2. Red Bull – 274
3. McLaren - 171
4. Racing Point – 154
5. Renault – 144