Formula 1: Lewis Hamilton holds off Max Verstappen to win a thrilling season-opener in Bahrain

Nick Bromberg
·3 min read
BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 28: Mercedes GP team members celebrate on the pitwall as Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W12 crosses the finish line to win during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 28, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton got his 96th career win on Sunday in thrilling fashion. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton's quest for a record eighth Formula 1 world championship is off to a winning start.

Hamilton held off polesitter Max Verstappen in a riveting finish to the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. Hamilton got in front of Verstappen by pitting ahead of Verstappen on two occasions and got some help from a Verstappen pass for the lead that went slightly awry.

Verstappen got ahead of Hamilton with less than four laps to go in turn 4. But he went off the track on the corner exit. Formula 1 stewards started telling teams during the race that drivers would be penalized for going off track in the corner after numerous drivers were going wide in the corner. 

That warning meant that Verstappen was facing a five-second penalty for going wide while passing Hamilton. He avoided a potential penalty by giving the lead back to Hamilton on the backstretch but never got close enough to try a pass for the lead again over the final three laps. 

The win is Hamilton's first in a season-opening race since he won the 2015 Australian Grand Prix. Hamilton has won the last four world titles and six of the last seven championships. An eighth title would break a tie with Michael Schumacher for the most F1 titles. Hamilton is already the winningest driver in F1 history and Sunday's race was his 96th career win.

Verstappen had the fastest car all weekend

Verstappen was the driver to beat all weekend. He was fastest in practice and beat Hamilton to the pole by nearly four tenths of a second. 

But Hamilton got the lead with an undercut on the first pit stop cyle of the race. Verstappen pitted six laps after Hamilton and then got the lead back with his fresher tires after Hamilton pitted before Verstappen again after Verstappen had closed to within two seconds.

Hamilton cut into Verstappen's ensuing lead on his fresh tires and had an 8.8-second lead when Verstappen emerged from the pits with 16 laps to go in the 56-lap race. Verstappen quickly cut into Hamilton's lead over the next 10 laps and put himself in a position to get the win if it wasn't for the errant pass. 

Race shortened by a lap due to Sergio Perez's problems

Sunday was Sergio Perez's first race as Verstappen's Red Bull Racing teammate. And it got off to an inauspicious start. Perez's car had been dealing with battery issues during the weekend and came to a stop on the formation lap. That stop forced officials to call off the scheduled start of the race and add an additional formation lap in lieu of a racing lap. 

Perez got his car restarted and started the race from pit lane behind the pack. He fought back to finish fifth. 

Race results

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)

4. Lando Norris (McLaren)

5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)

6. Charles LeClerc (Ferrari)

7. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)

8. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)

9. Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri)

10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)

11. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)

12. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)

13. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)

14. George Russell (Williams)

15. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)

16. Mick Schumacher (Haas)

17. Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri)

18. Nicholas Latifi (Williams)

19. Fernando Alonso (Alpine)

20. Nikita Mazepin (Haas)

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