Mercedes´s Lewis Hamilton sealed the 97th victory of his F1 career today at the opening round of the 2021 World Championship, the F1 Bahrein GP. Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), on the other hand, had to relinquish the lead to the Englishman with just three laps to go.
Verstappen had to give up his position in compliance with an order from his team and so as not to be penalized for exceeding the track limits during his overtaking of Hamilton, otherwise, he would have been the winner at the Sakhir Circuit.
A lacklustre Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) completed the podium albeit with a considerably slower rhythm than the two protagonists of the day.
Fourth place went to Lando Norris‘s McLaren, ahead of a superb Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez. In his Red Bull debut, the Mexican driver delighted fans with a spectacular comeback from the bottom of the pack to fifth, one place ahead of Charles Leclerc and his Ferrari.
As for Leclerc’s new Spanish partner, Carlos Sainz, he obtained an adequate eighth place in his debut race with Ferrari. His compatriot and twice world champion Fernando Alonso had to retire following some issues with the brakes of his Alpine.
Excitement and nerves ahead of the race
During the formation lap, Pérez’ RB16B suffered a sudden fault which meant the start had to be aborted. The blue car was soon brought back to life but Pérez had to start from the pit lane nonetheless.
Following the incident, all cars completed an extra formation lap before the beginning of the race. During the opening meters, Max managed to fend off Hamilton and hang on to the lead. Meanwhile, Leclerc passed Bottas for third. A few meters back, Alonso was taking over Sainz for eighth. What a hectic start!
Still on the first lap and Nikita crashed his Haas triggering a safety car that was to remain on the track until the fourth lap. On resuming the race, Max remained at the lead of the 2021 F1 Bahrain GP, ahead of Hamilton, Leclerc and Bottas.
Later on, Pierre Gasly would have a light collision which brought about a brief Virtual Safety Car. At the same time, Max was seemed to be suffering some issues with the differential. In spite of those, the Dutchman managed to edge Lewis Hamilton by almost two seconds. Fulfilling his role of ‘second in command’, Bottas kept Hamilton’s back by blocking Leclerc’s Ferrari.
First turning point
Halfway through the F1 Bahrain GP, a ruthless battle commenced between the two leaders.
Hamilton decided to pit stop again on lap 29, as the Dutchman was hot on his heels at just 1.6 seconds behind. The Briton came on the track with a set of brand-new hard tires, his favourite compound. Shortly after, the Dutchman from Red Bull followed suit mounting some hard compounds that would last him until the end.
An epic battle
The second round of the contest between Max and Hamilton was on, with the latter leading the fight by 7.4 seconds. Verstappen then began a ferocious pursuit of his British prey until he managed to get stuck in his wake with just three laps left to the finish line. The Dutchman finally performed a risky manoeuvre to pass Hamilton on bend 4.
Shortly after, Verstappen had to return his new acquired lead to the Briton. His team had ordered him to do so if he wanted to avoid a penalty from the organisers. F1 authorities had warned the team on several occasions about them repeatedly exceeding the limits of the track, including when the Dutchman passe Hamilton three laps to go. Controversially, Hamilton had behaved in the same way during the race.
In any case, Mercedes absolute rule seems to be finally over. Red Bull has demonstrated its potential and proved to be a worthy contender for the German team.
Images of F1 Bahrein GP: Mercedes AMG.