Lewis Hamilton edged Max Verstappen in an epic battle to win the season opener at the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.
Hamilton held off Verstappen in the final laps with the Dutchman having to give back an overtake he made with four laps to go. Verstappen made the overtake off the track at Turn 4 and the Red Bull Racing pitwall asked him to let Hamilton back in front.
After that. Hamilton skillfully held off Verstappen who got himself back within DRS-range. It was an edge of the seat, epic battle between the two best drivers on the grid. For good measure, Valtteri Bottas clinched the final podium position and took the extra point for the fastest lap after a late pit stop for fresh tyres.
The race started under the lights in cool conditions with air temperatures at 20 degrees C and track temperatures at 26 degrees C at the Bahrain International Circuit. Verstappen was on pole position with arch-rival Hamilton on the first row. Bottas and Charles Leclerc started on the second row.
Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardio were on the third row. Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll started at the sharp end of the grid. The top three drivers and Gasly started on the medium compound tyres. The rest of the drivers were on the soft compound tyres.
Sergio Pérez had an inauspicious start to his Red Bull career as he ground to a halt on the formation lap. Even as the other drivers started a new formation lap, the Mexican managed to restart his engine and made a pitlane start.
Verstappen led into Turn 1 as he held off Hamilton. Leclerc passed Bottas to take third position at Turn 4. But the Safety Car (SC) was deployed as Nikita Mazepin spun off into the barriers.
Verstappen led the pack after the restart but the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed as Mick Schumacher spun off and Gasly and Ricciardo tangled. Gasly lost his front-wing and the pit stop dropped him to last place.
By lap 6, Bottas took back third-place from Leclerc. Verstappen reported differential problems even as he extended the lead to Hamilton by two seconds. By lap 9, Norris swept past Leclerc to take fourth position. Pérez had made his way to thirteenth position and was flying at this point.
On lap 11, Alonso was the first of the frontrunners to pit and rejoined in seventeenth position. On lap 14, Hamilton pitted for the hard compound tyres as the Mercedes team used a proactive strategy to neutralize Verstappen’s faster pace.
On lap 16, Bottas pitted and Verstappen pitted on the next lap for the faster medium compound tyres. Hamilton was ahead by seven seconds and Verstappen cut the gap to less than three seconds by lap 27.
On lap 28, Hamilton pitted for a set of hard compound tyres again. Two laps later, Mercedes’ bid to apply pressure on Verstappen with a pit stop for Bottas ended in disaster as a problem with the front right tyre led to a ten second pit stop.
Alonso was forced to retire with overheating brakes. Verstappen extended his stint and pitted on lap 41 for a set of hard tyres and had a gap of over eight seconds behind Hamilton. But he had fifteen laps to catch Hamilton on fresher tyres.
Bottas had regained third position ahead of Norris. On lap 44, Pérez overtook Ricciardo to take sixth position. But a pulsating battle between Hamilton and Verstappen was developing for the race lead.
After Verstappen’s aborted overtake, Hamilton held him off as he positioned his car perfectly on the final four laps on his old tyres. Bottas pitted for fresh tyres and took the extra point for the fastest lap on the final lap.
Norris finished in fourth position after a strong weekend. Pérez finished in fifth position after a good comeback drive. Leclerc finished in sixth position to lead a double-points finish for Scuderia Ferrari as Sainz finished in eighth position.
Ricciardo finished in seventh position in his first race for the McLaren Mercedes team. Yuki Tsunoda finished in ninth position as he brought home the points in his debut race. Stroll took the final point for the Aston Martin Mercedes team.
Sebastian Vettel was given a penalty for his clash with Esteban Ocon and finished in fifteenth position in his first race for Aston Martin.
|1||44||Lewis Hamilton||GBR||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team||1:32:03.897||56||25|
|2||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull Racing||+0.745s||56||18|
|3||77||Valtteri Bottas||FIN||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team||+37.383s||56||16|
|4||4||Lando Norris||GBR||McLaren F1 Team||+46.466s||56||12|
|5||11||Sergio Perez||MEX||Red Bull Racing||+52.047s||56||10|
|6||16||Charles Leclerc||MON||Scuderia Ferrari||+59.090s||56||8|
|7||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||McLaren F1 Team||+66.004s||56||6|
|8||55||Carlos Sainz||ESP||Scuderia Ferrari||+67.100s||56||4|
|9||22||Yuki Tsunoda||JAP||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||+85.692s||56||2|
|10||18||Lance Stroll||CAN||Aston Martin Formula One Team||+86.713s||56||1|
|11||7||Kimi Räikkönen||FIN||Alfa Romeo Racing||+88.864s||56||0|
|12||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||ITA||Alfa Romeo Racing||+1 lap||55||0|
|13||31||Esteban Ocon||FRA||Alpine F1 Team||+1 lap||55||0|
|14||63||George Russell||GBR||Williams Racing||+1 lap||55||0|
|15||5||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Aston Martin Formula One Team||+1 lap||55||0|
|16||47||Mick Schumacher||GER||Uralkali Haas F1 Team||+1 lap||55||0|
|17||10||Pierre Gasly||FRA||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||DNF||52||0|
|18||6||Nicholas Latifi||CAN||Williams Racing||DNF||51||0|
|NC||14||Fernando Alonso||ESP||Alpine F1 Team||DNF||32||0|
|NC||9||Nikita Mazepin||RAF||Uralkali Haas F1 Team||DNF||0||0|