Sir Lewis Hamilton has taken victory for the first time in the opening race of the season since 2015, after finishing seven-tenths ahead of Max Verstappen in the Bahrain Grand Prix. The battle between the Mercedes and Red Bull was close throughout but Hamilton took the advantage when the Dutchman handed back the position after running wide through Turn Four.
It was a battle the sport wanted between Hamilton and Verstappen where the seven-time champion looked stronger on the track, using ten-lap older tyres. Red Bull decided to hand the position to Hamilton avoiding a time penalty, but there will be questions about whether that was the right decision.
The race became one of the most strategically important battles and the most gripping races in recent times, Hamilton undercut Verstappen during the first stop before holding him off at the second stop. Verstappen had won the start, but the undercut played by Mercedes gave Hamilton track advantage.
By running wide on lap fifty-three Verstappen had no choice other than to hand back the position because the stewards were heavily policing track limits at that corner. The Dutchman did however question the decision to cede position to Hamilton, believing he had enough pace to build a gap to off-set a five-second.
Red Bull had complained to the stewards earlier in the race about the seven-time champion exceeding track limits, and Hamilton followed the instruction. The steward then decided to apply the same strictness to both drivers.
Verstappen had beaten Hamilton at the start with Valtteri Bottas defending Charles Leclerc few the first few corners before the Haas of Nikita Mazepin went off at turn three. But once Hamilton had taken the lead for the final time it wasn’t one he was going to let go of easily. Red Bull had finished testing a fortnight ago and throughout the weekend had been fastest, but the strategy was what gave Mercedes the upper hand.
Hamilton’s victory also sees his record of seasons winning at least one Grand Prix victory extended to sixteen, and puts him just five away from becoming the first driver to reach a century of wins. Mercedes teammate Bottas was third, but with him over half a second behind the top two, but the Finn did take the fastest lap.
Bottas’s race unravelled with a slow second pit stop, but it looked to be the case that if he had a smooth stop, he could have joined the battle for the win. Instead, he was left to drive a steady race to third unchallenged by McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Lewis Hamilton: “Wow. What a difficult race that was. Stopping early we knew would be difficult but we had to cover Max, they have had an amazing performance all weekend Max was all over me at the end and I was just about able to hold him off. That was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while.”
Max Verstappen: “It’s a shame but you also have to see the positive. We are really taking the fight to them, and I think that’s great to start the year like that. Overall we managed to score good points.”
Norris was fourth finishing nine seconds behind the Finn in another solid evening for the Englishman. He had dropped behind Bottas just after half distance when he made his second stop around half distance and then remained ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez throughout the remaining laps.
Perez had a difficult start to his first race for the team, he stopped on the formation lap which dropped him to last on the grid. That prompted the Mexican to showcase why Red Bull signed him as he came through the field and up to fifth ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc showing progress for Ferrari, but still lacking the power slightly of the Mercedes as Norris charged passed along with Perez, despite the Red Bull driver switching to the three-stop strategy. Daniel Ricciardo was passed by McLaren teammate Norris early on.
Ricciardo then managed to gain more places following the restart, after the Haas of Nikita Mazepin crashed on the opening lap. Mazepin’s crash saw him spin-off in the same place as Romain Grosjean in November, but he avoided a major incident and saw only the safety car come out.
His teammate Mick Schumacher then struggled on the restart spinning at Turn Four, meanwhile, Pierre Gasly clipped Ricciardo’s rear tyre breaking his wing while Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll clashed at the final apex of the double Turns Nine and Ten, resulting in a Virtual Safety Car.
This dropped Sainz and Stroll into the pack finishing eighth and tenth respectively. Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda finished ninth, the only one of the rookies who managed to score points in his first race.
It was a troubled race for both Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, both having their own dramas. Vettel picking up a ten-second penalty for causing a collision after colliding with Alonso’s teammate Esteban Ocon, while Alonso retired on lap thirty-one with a brake failure.
Antonio Giovinazzi was twelfth leading the lapped cars of Ocon, George Russell, Vettel and Mick Schumacher, last of the cars to finish the race.
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- F1 Today – Bahrain Prixview – 25/03/2021
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