Bahrain GP: Hamilton holds off Verstappen to win epic duel

Lewis Hamilton held on to defeat Max Verstappen in a thrilling late duel in Formula 1's 2021 season opener in Bahrain, with the Red Bull driver giving back a late pass.

Bahrain GP: Hamilton holds off Verstappen to win epic duel

Mercedes and Red Bull 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 was been heavily policed for track limits by the FIA, and as the Dutchman 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 0.7s.

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 pit straight.

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 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 approached 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 1m36s, 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 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 1m35s 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 1m34s and again began to home in on Hamilton, getting to withing 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 8.8s 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 1m33.228s on his first full lap out of the pits versus Hamilton's 1m34.334s.

After quickly cutting the gap with several more laps in the mid 1m33s, 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 withing 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 37.3s adrift of Hamilton in third after a slow second stop had dropped him 10s 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 teammate Sainz, with Yuki Tsunoda beating Lance Stroll to ninth at the end of the top 10.

Sebastian Vettel was classified 15th after being hit with a penalty for colliding with the rear of Esteban Ocon's Alpine late in the race. Ocon eventually finished 13th.

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.

Cla Driver Chassis Gap
1 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
2 Netherlands Max Verstappen
Red Bull 0.745
3 Finland Valtteri Bottas
Mercedes 37.383
4 United Kingdom Lando Norris
McLaren 46.466
5 Mexico Sergio Perez
Red Bull 52.047
6 Monaco Charles Leclerc
Ferrari 59.090
7 Australia Daniel Ricciardo
McLaren 1'06.004
8 Spain Carlos Sainz Jr.
Ferrari 1'07.100
9 Japan Yuki Tsunoda
AlphaTauri 1'25.692
10 Canada Lance Stroll
Aston Martin 1'26.713
11 Finland Kimi Raikkonen
Alfa Romeo 1'28.864
12 Italy Antonio Giovinazzi
Alfa Romeo
13 France Esteban Ocon
Alpine
14 United Kingdom George Russell
Williams
15 Germany Sebastian Vettel
Aston Martin
16 Germany Mick Schumacher
Haas
17 France Pierre Gasly
AlphaTauri
18 Canada Nicholas Latifi
Williams
Spain Fernando Alonso
Alpine
Russian Federation Nikita Mazepin
Haas
shares
comments

Related video

The Bahrain GP as it happened
Previous article

The Bahrain GP as it happened

Next article

Verstappen "preferred" time penalty to letting Hamilton past

Verstappen "preferred" time penalty to letting Hamilton past
Load comments
How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison Prime

How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells Stuart Codling about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2021
The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Prime

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as Ben Anderson discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren Prime

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren

From being lapped by his own teammate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Prime

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing wind tunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher Prime

The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles as a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay Prime

Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax Prime

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021