Hamilton wins thrilling fight with Verstappen to take Bahrain victory

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton resisted the challenge from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in a thrilling late battle in Formula 1’s 2021 season opener in Bahrain.

Mercedes and Red Bull Racing deployed differing tyre strategies, with Verstappen’s offset rubber life advantage in the final stint meaning he was chasing Hamilton after leading the early stages from pole.

With four laps to go, Verstappen attacked Hamilton around the outside of Turn 4, which has been heavily policed for track limits by the FIA, and as Max went too wide off the kerb he was ordered to give the place back further around the lap.

Verstappen was able to get back close to Hamilton on the final tour but was not able to attempt another move and lost out by 0.7 seconds.

At the start, Verstappen had covered Hamilton by quickly moving to defend the inside line into Turn 1, successfully defending the lead while Leclerc put the slightly-slower-starting Bottas under pressure for third.

Verstappen led Hamilton around the rest of the first lap, with Leclerc passing Bottas at Turn 4, shortly before the race was neutralised after Haas driver Nikita Mazepin dropped his VF21 by himself running through Turn 3 and spun off into the barriers.

The race, which was cut to 56 laps after Sergio Perez ground to a halt on the initial formation lap before restarting his engine and getting going again to start from the pitlane, restarted on lap four, with Verstappen leaving it as late as possible to head back to racing speed due to the headwind blowing down the pitstraight.

After hitting the gas again just before the finish line, Verstappen quickly stole to the inside to again defend the line on the run to Turn 1, with Leclerc also attacking Hamilton to Verstappen’s left-hand side.

But the race was quickly neutralised again as Mick Schumacher became the second Haas rookie to have an incident all by himself as he spun exiting Turn 4 on the safety car restart lap, while just ahead Pierre Gasly clipped Daniel Ricciardo’s left rear and lost his front wing, and Carlos Sainz Jr and Lance Stroll clashed at the final apex of the double Turns 9/10 complex.

Clearing up after the various incidents was covered by the virtual safety car, which ended as the leaders approach the Turn 8 hairpin on lap five – meaning Verstappen did not have to worry about a third Turn 1 defence.

But a suspected differential problem was causing the Red Bull driver issues as he had reported a strange feeling when applying throttle, which caused Mercedes to instruct Bottas that the lead was “all to play for” once he’d battled by Leclerc using DRS into Turn 1 on lap six.

The problem did not appear to be causing Verstappen any further issue during the next phase of the race, as he and Hamilton extended their gap over Bottas with a string of laps in the low one munute, 36 seconds, with the second Mercedes a chunk further back each time.

The gap at the front stabilised approaching the two-second mark, with Verstappen looking in control.

But on lap 13 Mercedes then opted to bring Hamilton in for an unexpectedly early stop – just two laps after Fernando Alonso had become the first soft tyre runner to come – and switch his mediums for hards.

Hamilton’s pace on new rubber was so strong that it was quickly apparent than a like-for-like strategy would mean Verstappen losing out in any case, so Red Bull kept him out until lap 17, when he came in to take another set of mediums – a lap after Bottas had taken hards.

Hamilton’s lead when Verstappen emerged from the pits was just over seven seconds, but the Red Bull driver quickly began to erode that advantage.

A series of laps in the 1m34s vs Hamilton touring in the mid one minute, 35 seconds meant Verstappen had nearly halved the Mercedes driver’s lead by lap lap 24, before the gap stabilised for a time.

But Verstappen was able to get back into the one minute, 34 seconds and again began to home in on Hamilton, getting to within two seconds on lap 28, at the end of which Mercedes brought Hamilton in for another set of new hards, wary of a Red Bull undercut.

Verstappen therefore retook the lead and stayed out on his mediums until the end of lap 39, with Hamilton steadily having cut his lead at the front to just under 16 seconds.

The result was Verstappen facing an 8.8 seconds deficit as he emerged from the pits, but with 10-lap fresher rubber, which he quickly used to eat into Hamilton’s lead once again – setting a fastest lap at one minute, 33.228 seconds on his first full lap out of the pits versus Hamilton’s one minute, 34.334 seconds.

After quickly cutting the gap with several more laps in the mid one minute, 33 seconds, Verstappen’s chase slowed a touch – although he continued to reduce Hamilton’s advantage as they negotiated lapping traffic by around half a second a lap each time.

Verstappen eventually got within DRS range with five laps to go, using it to set up his briefly successful Turn 4 pass.

After giving back the lead Verstappen appeared to make a significant slide into Turn 13 approaching the end of lap 53 and he struggled to close back up quickly to the rear of the Mercedes, eventually running out of time.

Bottas finished 37.3 seconds adrift of Hamilton in third after a slow second stop had dropped him ten seconds further from the leaders, and took a late extra stop to successfully chase the fastest lap bonus point on the final tour.

Lando Norris finished fourth having battled by Leclerc shortly after the Ferrari driver had been passed by Bottas in the early stages, and he was followed home by the charging Perez, who recovered from his formation lap issues to take fifth on a three-stop strategy.

Leclerc came home fifth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and new team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr, with Yuki Tsuonda beating Lance Stroll to ninth at the end of the top ten.

Sebastian Vettel was classified P15 after being hit with a penalty for colliding with the rear of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine late in the race. Ocon eventually finished P13.

Gasly and Nicholas Latifi retired in the pits late on, while Alonso was the other retirement after suffering a suspected rear brake problem in the middle part of the race.

So a fantastic fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for the race wheel. The seven-time world champion resisted the pressure to take victory in the season opener.

Bahrain Grand Prix race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32:03.897
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.745
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 37.383
4 Lando Norris McLaren 46.466
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull 52.047
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 59.090
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:06.004
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:07.100
9 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:25.692
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:26.713
11 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:28.864
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 lap
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1 lap
14 George Russell Williams +1 lap
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +1 lap
16 Mick Schumacher Haas +1 lap
17 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri DNF
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams DNF
– Fernando Alonso Alpine DNF
– Nikita Mazepin Haas DNF

3 thoughts to “Hamilton wins thrilling fight with Verstappen to take Bahrain victory”

  1. Bahrain Grand Prix race review as reported by Formula1.com.

    Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton won a nail-biting Bahrain Grand Prix season opener, triumphing over the Red Bull of Max Verstappen in a fantastic duel in the desert that went down to the very last lap of the race, as the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas completed the podium.

    Starting from the fourth pole position of his career, Verstappen had taken control of the race early on, but lost his advantage when Hamilton was able to undercut the Dutchman into the lead in the first round of pit stops. Following a second stop for both drivers – Verstappen’s coming 10 laps after Hamilton’s – a thrilling finale was set up, Verstappen eating into Hamilton’s lead before attempting a pass on Lap 53 but running too wide and giving the place back.

    That would be Verstappen’s last opportunity, with Hamilton able to hold on until the flag to take his 96th career win by less than a second – while Hamilton also passed Michael Schumacher’s record of 5,111 for the most laps led in F1 history.

    Behind the duelling lead pair, Bottas finished a distant third after a late stop to successfully gain the fastest lap bonus point, while Lando Norris equalled his result from the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix with a fantastic drive to fourth for McLaren.

    After a formation lap issue that forced him to start from the pit lane, Sergio Perez recovered to fifth on his debut for Red Bull, ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo.

    It was the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz who took eighth, ahead of rookie Yuki Tsunoda in ninth, while Lance Stroll gave Aston Martin points on their return to F1 with P10.

    So, it was disappointment for Verstappen and glory for reigning champion Hamilton at round one – but after a thrilling battle, it looks like we’ve definitely got a tight struggle for supremacy in 2021 between Red Bull and Mercedes on our hands.

    Sergio Perez gave Red Bull a heart-in-their-mouths moment even before the race had begun, his Red Bull RB16B pulling up on the formation lap with an issue. Perez – who, like Pierre Gasly, had taken a new control electronics and energy store on his car before the race – was able to get the RB16B going and take up position at the end of the pit lane to take the race start, as the grid were forced into a second formation lap.

    When the five red lights on the Bahrain International Circuit gantry were eventually extinguished and the 2021 season got under way, all eyes were fixed on how the sister Red Bull of Max Verstappen on pole would fare against the menacing black Mercedes W12s of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas starting alongside and astern of him.

    Very well, as it turned out. Verstappen smoothly covered off the threat from Hamilton, to hold the lead going through Turn 1, with Bottas coming under attack from the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc starting P4, Leclerc eventually getting ahead of the Finn before a Safety Car was called into action. That was because of Nikita Mazepin, who’d spun his Haas coming out of Turn 3 and smashed into the wall – an inauspicious, but fortunately non-serious, way to conclude his F1 debut.

    The race got going again on Lap 4 of 56 (the aborted first formation lap having taken one lap off the planned 57), Verstappen waiting as late as possible to put his foot down at the restart as he tried to reduce the opportunity for Hamilton to slipstream him into the lead down the straight.

    The Dutchman managed it cannily, heading Hamilton, who himself led Leclerc, Bottas, Gasly, Norris and Ricciardo – Norris having passed his new team mate before the Safety Car was called – with Fernando Alonso in eighth ahead of Stroll and Sainz.

    Norris was looking fighty early doors, though, and straight away passed Gasly at the restart. Ricciardo did too, but clipped the Frenchman’s front wing, ripping it from the AlphaTauri AT02 and forcing Gasly in for a change – while debutant Mick Schumacher dropped his own Haas coming into Turn 6 and spun. Bottas re-passed Leclerc for P3 on Lap 6, while Norris too was past the Ferrari driver three laps later.

    On his F1 return, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso pulled the trigger for the first round of pit stops on Lap 11, and with Verstappen having eked out a near two-second advantage over Hamilton in the early stages, the work of Red Bull and Mercedes’ pit crews and strategists would be key as to whether the Dutchman could keep his advantage.

    Hamilton was in for hards on Lap 13, and flew on his out laps. Verstappen would wait four more laps to make his own stop – but the undercut is powerful in Bahrain, and Red Bull’s delay in bringing their man in meant that Hamilton was able to jump into the lead, and by a full 7s at that.

    So it was advantage Mercedes after the first stops, Hamilton comfortably heading Verstappen by Lap 20, while Bottas had been able to pass Perez for P3 – the Mexican having pitted under the Safety Car on Lap 3, before managing to climb into the podium places – with Perez then pitting again for hards on Lap 22 and dropping back down the order.

    Behind, and around 14s adrift, it was Norris from Leclerc, Ricciardo and Stroll, while Carlos Sainz was up to P8, having won out in a thrilling Lap 21 duel with multiple champs Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

    Verstappen, though, wasn’t hanging around, and went about eating into Hamilton’s lead, taking seconds out of the reigning champ’s lead. It got Mercedes sweating, and after just 16 laps on his hards, Hamilton was in on Lap 28 for another set of hards.

    That appeared to leave Bottas in P2 to go after Verstappen, but Mercedes brought the Finn in too two laps later, where a sticking right-front tyre kept him stationary for 10.9s, bringing him out in P5 behind Norris and Leclerc – McLaren and Ferrari then sparing Mercedes’ blushes by quickly pitting those two drivers in quick succession, along with Ricciardo and Sainz.

    The advantage, then, had swung decisively back to Red Bull, who eventually brought Verstappen in on Lap 39, one lap after Perez, with Verstappen emerging on hards after a beautiful 1.9-second stop from Red Bull. He was now 8.5s behind Hamilton in P2, on 10-lap-younger tyres, and with 16 laps to the flag to get after the Mercedes. Game on.

    Alonso’s F1 return had ended on Lap 33 meanwhile with a brake issue, dropping the Spaniard out of 10th place, and meaning that by Lap 43 of 56, the order was Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Norris, Leclerc, Ricciardo and Perez – who’d passed the Aston Martin of Stroll for P7 on Lap 40 – with Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top 10.

    Vettel had been given a five-place penalty and three penalty points for a qualifying infringement ahead of the race start – and the German was in more trouble on Lap 44 as he ploughed into the rear of Esteban Ocon at Turn 1, both cars spinning around before getting going again – and with the stewards handing Vettel a further 10-second time penalty, and two more penalty points for his troubles.

    Up at the front, though, we had a fascinating finale in prospect, as Verstappen visually eroded Hamilton’s lead down as the laps ticked away. The crunch moment between the pair finally came on Lap 53 of 56, as Verstappen muscled around the outside of Hamilton into Turn 4 to claim the lead. He’d done it – only he hadn’t, Verstappen having run too wide in the move, and honourably relinquishing the place back to Hamilton on the run down to Turn 11.

    It would turn out to be the Dutchman’s last chance at an overtake, and with Verstappen’s hard tyres appearing to begin to lose grip in Hamilton’s turbulent air, the Mercedes was able to hold on, Hamilton claiming win number 96 – and ending up leading his 5,126th lap by the chequered flag to take a new F1 record from Michael Schumacher to boot.

    “That was a really good start for us” said a delighted Hamilton after the race – and considering that two weeks before at pre-season testing, he’d been sat in a gravel trap at Turn 13 in a Mercedes W12 that had looked borderline undriveable at times, as rivals Red Bull thrived, he wasn’t wrong.

    Behind Hamilton and a philosophical Verstappen – the polesitter, who’d dominated the weekend in the build up to the race, saying that it had been “great to start the year” to put Mercedes under such pressure – Bottas was a disappointed third, having never looked on the pace of his team mate all weekend, and having been unable to make it a hat trick of season opener wins. McLaren’s Norris was one of the stars of the race, claiming P4 for the team as he did last year in Bahrain, three places up on new team mate Ricciardo, and with the second Red Bull of Perez and Ferrari’s Leclerc in between.

    The hype surrounding Yuki Tsunoda won’t have been abated by the Japanese taking points on his F1 debut in ninth, behind the second Ferrari of Sainz, as Stroll rounded out the top 10 – Vettel’s clumsy incident with Ocon and subsequent penalty leaving him P15 on his Aston Martin debut at the flag, ahead only of his compatriot, and another debutant, Mick Schumacher.

    The two Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi ran solidly but just out of the points to claim P11 and P12, ahead of Ocon and the Williams of George Russell in P14 – Russell’s team mate Nicholas Latifi and Gasly having been quietly retired a few laps from the end.

    So round one, and the first blow has been struck by Mercedes. But while in seasons past, there might have been a grim inevitability to that result, don’t be fooled: this looks like a proper fight in prospect between the Silver Arrows and Red Bull in 2021.

  2. Race winner Lewis Hamilton commented that this Bahrain Grand Prix was “one of the hardest races”. Motorsport.com has the news story.

    Lewis Hamilton says the Bahrain Grand Prix was one of the hardest races he has had in Formula 1 for a while, as he triumphed after a thriller duel with Max Verstappen.

    The world champion took victory in the F1 season opener as he eked out his tyres for a long final stint at Sakhir and held off pre-race favourite Verstappen for the win.

    Although Verstappen briefly managed to take the lead a few laps from home, he had the give the place back after running wide at Turn 4 – and then the Dutchman was unable to get close enough again for another shot at grabbing the front spot.

    Speaking after the race, Hamilton made no secret of the fact that he had had to work hard to pull off the victory on a weekend where Mercedes had been on the back foot.

    “Wow, what a difficult race that was,” said Hamilton. “Definitely stopping early, we knew it was going to be difficult but we had to cover Max. They’ve had an amazing performance all weekend. So it would take something really special.

    “We stopped for that last stint and were trying to find the right balance between not pushing too much and having tyres that were alive the end of the race.

    “It was difficult and Max was all over me right at the end, but we just about managed to hold him off.

    “It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while, so I’m really grateful for it.

    “Massively thankful to the men and women back at the factory and the guys, and here also, for continuously pushing the boundaries and never giving up even if we did feel we were behind.”

    Hamilton said that he feared Mercedes could be giving away more than half a second of performance to Red Bull this weekend, which is why the win felt even better.

    “It was so hard in the car today but what a great event, and this is a really good start for us,” he said.

    “Through testing we thought that we were going to be six to eight tenths behind. So the work that’s going on the last week has been spectacular. And I’m just so proud to see everyone’s so hyped for today as well.”

  3. Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen “preferred” time penalty to letting Lewis Hamilton passed after doing the overtaking on the outside of Turn 4. Motorsport.com has the details.

    Max Verstappen says he would have preferred a penalty for overtaking Formula 1 rival Lewis Hamilton off-track at the Bahrain Grand Prix’s climax, rather than handing back the lead

    After reeling in leader Hamilton on fresher tyres during an absorbing duel, Verstappen used the DRS with four laps to go to attack the Briton into Turn 4.

    Verstappen managed to pass Hamilton around the outside but went off the track at the exit, an area which the FIA stewards started policing halfway through the race.

    Verstappen quickly let Hamilton past again on the following straight but was then unable to commit to another attack on the final three laps.

    A radio exchange between Verstappen and team boss Christian Horner revealed the Dutchman was reluctant to hand the lead back to Hamilton, preferring to stay ahead and take a potential five-second penalty for gaining an advantage by going off the circuit.

    “Why didn’t you let me go? I could have easily got the five seconds. I prefer to lose like that than to be second like this,” Verstappen fumed on the radio, thinking he would be able to gap Hamilton in clear air.

    Horner replied explaining the team immediately received word from race control that Verstappen would have to cede the lead.

    After the finish Verstappen admitted it was a “shame” to lose his first encounter with Hamilton of the 2021 F1 season, but also thought it was great to be able to challenge Mercedes from the start of the season, something Red Bull has not managed in previous years.

    “It’s of course a shame but you also have to see the positive,” Verstappen said. “We’re really putting the fight on to them and I think that’s great to start the year like that.”

    After ceding the lead back to Hamilton, Verstappen was unable to threaten the world champion again on the final few laps, finishing seven tenths in arrears.

    Verstappen appeared to struggle getting up to speed coming out of slower corners, an issue that intermittently plagued the Dutchman from the very beginning.

    “I don’t know what happened there, I don’t think that was completely solved the whole race in the low-speed corners,” he added.

    “We’ll have a look at that, but overall we managed to finish the race of course, and score good points.”

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