Lewis Hamilton took victory in a dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon, holding off Max Verstappen in the final laps to claim the opening race of the 2021 season.
Many expect the Briton and the Dutchman to go head-to-head for the title this season and, indeed, this opening race at the Sakhir circuit rather suggested we’re going to get exactly that.
The lead, and momentum, swung to and fro throughout the duration of the Grand Prix, with things largely centred around tyre choice and strategy, as Hamilton ultimately did a good enough job to take 25 points.
After a stop-start opening to the race, thanks to Sergio Perez suffering a fault on the parade lap – seeing him having to start from the pit-lane – and Nikita Mazepin stuffing his Haas in the wall at turn three on the opening lap, it was initially Verstappen who led the opening exchanges from Hamilton.
Come the first round of pit-stops, though, it was Hamilton who appeared to have seized the initiative, as he swapped to the hard tyre compound and quickly threatened the undercut on Verstappen, forcing the Red Bull driver to try and stretch out his medium tyres for a few laps longer and negate the impact Hamilton’s fresh rubber was having.
A stop, though, was inevitable for the Dutchman and just a handful of laps later Hamilton would indeed take the lead.
Mercedes, though, were struggling to light up the harder compounds for as much as they would have liked and this subplot ultimately set things up a hugely engrossing finish.
Mid-race, the Silver Arrows simply were not getting the performance they’d hope for out of their harder tyres and Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas both pitted earlier than they would have liked for the second round of stops.
Verstappen, meanwhile, could get better performance out of his second set of mediums to run longer and, after his second stop, the chase was truly on as he moved onto a far fresher set of hard compound tyres, hunting Hamilton down.
As the closing laps passed, Verstappen zeroed in and by lap 53 of 56, the gloves were truly off. Getting a good run on Hamilton, the Dutchman teed up a move to overtake at turn four but was adjudged to have exceeded track limits on the exit as he roared into the lead.
Giving the place back, Verstappen had to go again but, in desperation trying to get back in front, he too had now appeared to have overdone it, looking short of grip for the first time in the race as we went into the final lap.
Indeed, no renewed onslaught from Verstappen would materialise but, it must be said, the blue touch paper for the rest of the campaign appears to have been lit.
Hamilton, now F1’s all-time record lap leader after surpassing Michael Schumacher's total during the race, knows he has a fight on his hands but here, as if there was any doubt, Verstappen saw just how difficult it will be to knock him off his perch in 2021.
Top three: Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas.News Now - Sport News