By F1 correspondent Michael Butterworth
BEIJING, March 29 (Xinhua) — World champion Lewis Hamilton took a superb victory in the 2021 Formula 1 season opener in Bahrain, edging out the Red Bull of Max Verstappen after a titanic scrap in the closing laps on Sunday.
Verstappen led the field away from his pole position, but lost the lead to Hamilton after the Briton undercut the Red Bull during the first round of pitstops.
While Hamilton made his second stop on lap 28, Verstappen stayed out until lap 40, setting the scene for a fascinating finale as the Dutchman hunted down the Mercedes on fresher rubber.
Eating into Hamilton’s lead to the tune of around 0.5 seconds per lap, Verstappen finally made his move past the Briton on lap 53 of 56, but exceeded track limits as he did so, forcing him to give the position back to Hamilton.
This hurt Verstappen’s momentum, and the Dutchman crucially fell back out of DRS range of the Mercedes on the following lap, stunting his progress and allowing Hamilton to stay ahead and win a thrilling race by just 0.7 seconds.
“What a difficult race that was,” said Hamilton afterwards. “Stopping early we knew would be difficult but we had to cover Max, they have had 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.”
Verstappen took defeat with good grace and underlined Red Bull’s perceived competitiveness this year. “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.”
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas finished some way behind the leading duo in third, his cause not helped by a slow second pitstop, though the Finn did at least take home the bonus point for fastest lap.
Lando Norris took a strong fourth for McLaren, with Verstappen’s new teammate Sergio Perez salvaging a fine fifth place after starting from the pitlane following a technical issue on the formation lap.
Charles Leclerc took sixth for Ferrari, followed by Norris’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo in seventh in his first race for McLaren. Carlos Sainz took eighth on his Ferrari debut, with AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda scoring points in his maiden F1 race with a fine drive to ninth, ahead of Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin.
The next round of the 2021 Formula 1 season is the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, Italy on April 18. Enditem