Sir Lewis Hamilton commenced the 2021 Formula One World Championship season in epic fashion by holding off a late challenge from Max Verstappen to win the 17th running of the Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The reigning seven-time Formula One champion started on the front row alongside Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen, who won his fourth career pole position in F1 a day prior to the main event. Through the pit stops and the on-track battling, Hamilton and Verstappen took turns dominating the event over one another and the field. By Lap 40 of 56, though, Hamilton was out in front by more than eight seconds over Verstappen.
On Lap 53, Verstappen, who was able to methodically decrease his deficit to Hamilton, drew himself alongside Hamilton’s Mercedes on the outside lane through Turn 3 and entering Turn 4. Though Verstappen was able to reassume the lead from Hamilton, he went wide and off the track during the process. In doing so, he had to relinquish the lead back to Hamilton to avoid a penalty.
Despite keeping the pressure on Hamilton, the Dutchman was unable to gain another run to close back towards Hamilton, who had enough power to claim the checkered flag in first place by 0.745 seconds over Verstappen.
The victory was Hamilton’s fifth at Bahrain and the 96th of his Formula One career as Hamilton begins his quest for a record-setting eighth F1 World championship. Hamilton also recorded his 75th victory with Mercedes and the 300th Grand Prix victory for a competitor from the United Kingdom. Prior to his victory at Bahrain, Hamilton established another record in the history books by surpassing Michael Schumacher’s record for the most laps led in F1 history with 5,126.
“I’m so happy,” Hamilton said. “I really, really am absolutely over the moon just to see the response from the team, knowing how difficult today really was. It was so tough. For the first race, I was not expecting to be in that position, being able to keep up with [Verstappen] in the first stint. I was really grateful for that…We knew this weekend and through testing that we were gonna be on the back foot and there’s been a lot of worrying in the team, but we pulled it through…I knew [Verstappen] was catching me massively. I couldn’t do the laps he was doing and I guess in my mind, I was thinking, ‘OK, if I can just hold on to these tyres, make no mistakes, maybe just keep him at harm’s length out of my DRS, which wasn’t necessary in this case,’…it was so hard.”
The runner-up result was one that left Verstappen with mixed emotions, disappointment in not winning the season-opening event but pleased and confident in challenging Hamilton and Mercedes for this year’s championship.
“It is what it is,” Verstappen said. “I gave the position back and then, I tried again, but I didn’t have the tyres anymore. Of course, I had newer tyres, but as soon as you get within one and a half seconds, it also degrades very quickly and it’s super hard to follow with these cars, especially with how the wind was today. It was really not helping out of Turn 1, Turn 2 and all critical corners where you want to stay close. It was hurting even more. Of course, I’m disappointed about today, but last year, we would be super happy with a race like this. It also shows how much we have grown. It’s still a positive start to the season and it’s still a long season ahead. I see it as only seven points dropped, and we’ll try to do better next time.”
Rounding out the podium in third place was Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who trailed teammate and race winner Hamilton by more than 37 seconds to claim his 57th career podium result in F1 despite encountering a slow pit stop past the midway point of the event. Bottas also recorded the fastest lap of the event.
McLaren’s Lando Norris finished in fourth place while Sergio “Checo” Perez, who started the race on pit lane after losing engine power during the formation lap, recovered to record a strong fifth-place result in his first start with Red Bull Racing. With his recovery and stellar drive back to the front, Perez was voted Driver of the Day.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crossed the finish line in a decent sixth place followed by Daniel Ricciardo, who completed his first event with McLaren, and Carlos Sainz Jr., who completed his first event with Ferrari.
Yuki Tsunoda, one of three newcomers in this year’s Formula One season, finished in ninth place driving for AlphaTauri while Lance Stroll completed the points-awarded results on the track in the top 10 by finishing 10th, thus recording a single point for the newly formed Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team.
The first competitor to finish outside of the points in 11th place was Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen followed by teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, who finished a lap behind the leaders.
Esteban Ocon settled in 13th place following an on-track incident with Sebastian Vettel on Lap 46, where Vettel, who had been overtaken by Ocon entering Turn 1, locked up his tires and ran into the rear of Ocon’s Alpine machine in Turn 1, sending both competitors around. Vettel finished in a disappointing 15th place in his first race with Aston Martin Racing and right behind Williams driver George Russell.
Mick Schumacher, another newcomer in F1 this season driving for the Haas F1 Team, finished 16th after spinning early followed by Pierre Gasly, who damaged his front wing early in the race following contact with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and never recovered.
Nicholas Latifi, the second Williams Racing competitor, settled in 18th place after retiring just shy of the finish due to a boosting system issue.
In his return to F1 competition since retiring in 2018, Fernando Alonso, who had a decent run in the making with Alpine, retired in 19th place due to brake issues.
Nikita Mazepin, the second Haas F1 competitor and the third F1 newcomer of this season, ended his race in 20th place and as the first retiree of the event after being involved in an opening lap wreck in Turn 3, where he slid sideways entering the turn while running at the rear of the field and made hard contact against the barriers, thus sustaining heavy damage to his Haas machine.
1. Lewis Hamilton, 27 laps led, 25 points
2. Max Verstappen, 29 laps led, 18 points
3. Valtteri Bottas, 16 points
4. Lando Norris, 12 points
5. Sergio Perez, 10 points
6. Charles Leclerc, eight points
7. Daniel Ricciardo, six points
8. Carlos Sainz Jr., four points
9. Yuki Tsunoda, two points
10. Lance Stroll, one point
11. Kimi Räikkönen
12. Antonio Givinazzi, +1 lap
13. Esteban Ocon, +1 lap
14. George Russell, Williams Mercedes, +1 lap
15. Sebastian Vettel, +1 lap
16. Mick Schumacher, +1 lap
17. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri Honda, DNF
18. Nicholas Latifi, Williams Mercedes, DNF
19. Fernando Alonso, Alpine Renault, DNF
20. Nikita Mazepin, Haas Ferrari, DNF
Following the first Grand Prix event of the 2021 season, Hamilton leads the drivers’ standings by seven points over Verstappen, nine over Bottas, 13 over Norris and 15 over Perez. In addition, Mercedes leads the constructors’ standings by 13 points over Red Bull Racing, 23 over McLaren and 29 over Ferrari.
With the 2021 Formula One season underway, the next event on the schedule is Imola Circuit for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday, April 18.