SAKHIR, Bahrain – Lewis Hamilton didn’t have the best car during Sunday’s Formula One opener at the Bahrain Int’l Circuit, but he did have the best strategy.
Utilizing brilliant strategy from the Mercedes team, Hamilton was able to fend off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen during an intense battle in the final five laps to win the Bahrain Grand Prix to open the Formula One season.
Verstappen started from the pole after sweeping all three practice sessions earlier in the weekend, but lost control of the race when Hamilton and Mercedes utilized the undercut during the first set of pit stops.
That put Hamilton in control of the race, with Verstappen cycling back into the lead only when Mercedes called Hamilton back into the pits for his second stop later in the race. Verstappen would then pit 10 laps later, giving Hamilton a nearly nine second advantage with 15 laps to race.
With fresher tires and a faster car, Verstappen was able to run down Hamilton and was within DRS range with five laps left.
On lap 53 Verstappen was able to clear Hamilton for the race lead, but in doing so he ran wide out of a corner and was ordered by race control to give the lead back to Hamilton for exceeding track limits.
With Verstappen back in his mirror, Hamilton made no more mistakes despite being hounded for the final three laps of the race. Verstappen chased Hamilton to the finish and was scored .745 seconds behind Hamilton at the checkered flag.
“What a difficult race that was,” Hamilton said after his 96th Formula One victory. “Definitely stoping early we knew was going to be difficult, but we had to cover Max. They’ve had amazing performance all weekend, so it was going to take something pretty special (to win).
“Max was all over me right at the end,” Hamilton continued. “It was one of the hardest races I’ve had in awhile.”
Verstappen was understandably frustrated with the outcome of the race after having the best car all weekend at the Bahrain Int’l Circuit. However, he acknowledged that it was good to be able to battle Mercedes and Hamilton at the front of the field early in the season.
“It’s of course a shame, but you also have to see the positive,” Verstappen said. “We were really putting the fight onto them and I think that’s great to start the year like that.”
Valtteri Bottas finished a distant third in the second Mercedes, more than 37 seconds behind his teammate Hamilton at the checkered flag. Lando Norris was fourth for McLaren, with Sergio Perez recovering from a pit lane start to finish fifth in the second Red Bull.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll completed the top-10.
Fernando Alonso, making his return to Formula One after last competing in the series in 2018, failed to finish after retiring with damage to the brake ducts on his Alpine.