Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton clinched a nail-biting Bahrain Grand Prix season opener, beating Max Verstappen of Red Bull in a duel that went down to the last lap of the race. Valtteri Bottas, also driving a Mercedes, completed the podium.
Starting from fourth pole position of his career, Verstappen had taken control of the race early on, but lost advantage as Hamilton got into lead in the first round of pit stops.
Following a second stop for both drivers, a thrilling finale was set up. Verstappen ate 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.
Hamilton also passed Michael Schumacher;s record of 5,111 for the most laps led in Formula One history.
Behind the lead pair, Bottas finished a distant th
The Formula One season promises to be an exciting one after world champion Lewis Hamilton barely held off Max Verstappen on Sunday in Bahrain.
It will take some time to judge whether Verstappen’s Red Bull team are really capable of dethroning Hamilton’s Mercedes outfit after seven years at the top but they seem to have a car that can finally give Mercedes a real fight until the end.
“There is a long way to go, 22 (races) … Holy crap! I will be grey by the end of this,” Hamilton said, DPA news reports. Verstappen meanwhile considered: “we’ll have 22 more opportunities to do better.
“We have to look at the positives, we are taking the fight to Mercedes and I think that’s great, it’s good to start the season this way,” the Dutchman added.
Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff said: “We have a real fight on our hands – and we’re all excited about the prospect of a really close battle for these championships.”
The next duel comes on April 18 at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, and Hamilton vowed he wants to prove again that he can also win races while not having the best car.
“We’ve got to do better, we’ve got to be smarter and how we navigate through our weekends with the fact that we don’t have the fastest car at the moment but that’s all good for me, I don’t mind having to pull out extra in order to make the difference,” he said.
Red Bull had the faster car all weekend in Bahrain just as in pre-season training, but team tactics and the experience of the 36-year-old seven-time champion made the difference in the end.
British paper The Guardian said that “Hamilton delivered an emphatic and salutary reminder that if Max Verstappen is to wrest the title from the champion’s grasp he will be fought every inch of the way.”
The 23-year-old Dutchman actually managed to get past Hamilton in an exciting finale but exceeded track limits and had to hand the position back to the Briton who then held on to win.
“I had one shot and I just went outside of the track at Turn 4 so I gave the position back, but by then my tyres weren’t in a good state any more to put the pressure on,” Verstappen said.
Race stewards had punished drivers exceeding the track limits at that spot before on the weekend but were initially lenient in the early stages of the race which led to some confusion.
“We need to be consistent in which messages are being given. They need to be clear, they need to be sacred and not a Shakespeare novel that leaves interpretation [open],” Wolff said.