Lewis Hamilton took the 96th victory of his career by overtaking Max Verstappen by less than a second in the first Grand Prix of the 2021 season.
Verstappen, who started from pole position, held the lead for the early part of the race but lost the position to Hamilton when Mercedes successfully undercut Red Bull by being the first to stop for a tire change.
Managing to extend the second stint, Verstappen stopped significantly later than the Briton and took advantage of having fresher tires than his rival to stick to the rear of the Mercedes in the final laps of the Grand Prix.
The direct confrontation between the two drivers reached its peak with four laps to go, when Verstappen actually overtook the seven-time world champion but was forced to give the position back for completing the maneuver outside track limits: a moment that would prove crucial to the outcome of the race, as Hamilton never relinquished the lead.
A long second pit stop kept Valtteri Bottas out of the fight for victory and meant a solitary third place for the Finn, who still put on medium tires on the penultimate lap to add the fastest lap point.
Lando Norris was in great shape in the race that marked the beginning of the new partnership between McLaren and Mercedes, and drove the MCL35M to fourth place in Sakhir.
Sergio Pérez’s already difficult debut weekend at Red Bull was made even more difficult when a RB16B failure during the formation lap forced him to start from the pit lane, but the Mexican driver made one of his usual recoveries to cross the line in fifth and be awarded the title of driver of the day.
After being fourth fastest in yesterday’s qualifying session, Charles Leclerc closed today’s race in sixth position, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren and Carlos Sainz’s other Ferrari.
Yuki Tsunoda secured the first points of his career by placing ninth in his AlphaTauri, while Lance Stroll rounded out the scoring places in Aston Martin’s return to the Formula One grid.
Nikita Mazepin brought his debut race to an early end by losing control of his Haas at the third corner on the first lap, with Fernando Alonso joining the Russian on the list of exits due to rear brake failure in his Alpine.
Hamilton said it was one of the toughest races recently
Lewis Hamilton says that strong opposition from Max Verstappen made the Bahrain Grand Prix “one of the toughest races” of recent times on a personal level – and warns that Mercedes will need to do “anything and everything” if they are to continue to beat Red Bull in 2021.
After finishing nearly four-tenths behind Verstappen in the first qualifying session of the year, Hamilton fought an intense battle with the Dutch driver in the Sakhir race and crossed the finish line with a lead of less than a second over Red Bull.
“Wow, what a tough race,” Hamilton said after the checkered flag. “By stopping early, we definitely knew it was going to be tough, but we had to cover Max. They had a spectacular performance all weekend. So it would take something really special.”
“We stopped for that last stint and we were trying to find the right balance between not attacking too much and having tires that were alive at the end of the race. It was tough and Max was right on top of me at the end, but we managed to hold him off just barely.”
“It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while, so I’m very grateful. Massively grateful to the men and women at the factory and the guys here as well, for continuing to push the limits and never giving up, even if we felt we were behind.”
The British driver, who even though Mercedes would be “six or eight tenths” slower than Red Bull after the pre-season test, underlined the “spectacular work” done by his team ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix.