Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) has won a very exciting first race of the F1 season. The reigning world champion was barely able to keep the Red Bull from Max Verstappen in the Bahrain GP after a fantastic fight in the final rounds. Valtteri Bottas finished third in the other Mercedes.
After the traditional season opener in Australia was postponed due to the corona pandemic, the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain was allowed to host the first race of the Formula 1 season for the third time in history. This was already the case in 2006 and 2010, when Fernando Alonso won every time. A repeat of that would not be easy for the Spaniard, who started his F1 comeback in Bahrain from ninth place with the Alpine team. Title favorites Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) started on the front row.
The race was cut short by one lap when Sergio Pérez’s Red Bull came to a halt at the end of the formation lap. While a second formation lap began, the Mexican actually managed to get his car back up and running. Pérez immediately entered the pits and would start the race from there.
Crash from rookie
The start went smoothly for Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Both men kept their position, something that Valtteri Bottas failed to achieve in the second Mercedes. He was overtaken by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, which, in contrast to the top three, had started on the softest tire. After a few corners, the first safety car of the season was also a fact: the much-discussed rookie Nikita Mazepin lost control of his Haas in the third corner and ended up in the tire stack.
The restart did not go smoothly either. The top four remained the same, but behind them Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) ended up in a duel with the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. That ended completely: Gasly broke his nose on the back of Ricciardo’s car and had to go to the pit lane. Ricciardo was able to continue on his way without any problems. Mick Schumacher spun in the background, but the son of seven-time world champion Michael was also able to continue.
In the sixth lap, Valtteri Bottas squeezed past Charles Leclerc, after which the Finn disappeared on the horizon, just like Verstappen and Hamilton. A train quickly formed behind Leclerc: the young Monegask was followed by the two McLarens, Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) and his new Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. The six resulted in some nice duels, and in the meantime, Sergio Pérez was also working hard to make his way forward from the backfield.
Hamilton opts for an early stop
Fernando Alonso opened the first series of pit stops in lap 11, with his direct competitors following in the following rounds. Hamilton was the first of the top three to get fresh tires on lap 13. The world champion chose a set of hard tires, teammate Bottas did the same three laps later.
Max Verstappen came in last of the leaders on lap 17 and lost first place to Hamilton, who could have hit a gap of about seven seconds on his fresh rubber. However, Verstappen opted for a set of faster medium tires and slowly but surely started to fish the Mercedes back in. On lap 28, when the gap dropped below two seconds, Hamilton made his second pit stop. The Briton again opted for the hard rubber. In the meantime, Fernando Alonso, at that time in full battle for the points, had to give up the fight due to brake problems.
Meanwhile, Verstappen still felt good on the medium tires and only decided to make his second and final pit stop on lap 39. The Dutchman with roots in Maaseik came out just nine seconds behind leader Hamilton, but with hard tires that were no less than 11 laps fresher. And so began a sprint to the finish. Hamilton has now set another record in lap 43: it was his 5,112th lap that he led in F1, a number that he immediately added to afterwards.
Illegal overtaking maneuver
Just like in the previous stint, Verstappen closed the gap to Hamilton little by little. With six laps to go, the Dutchman came within a second and a half. Hamilton made a mistake under pressure, causing Verstappen to arrive within a second. Crucial, because that allowed the Red Bull pilot to use DRS on three straight stretches.
In the 53rd of 56 rounds, Verstappen made a first attack. He was just too far on the long straight from start / finish. On the next straight line, Verstappen came alongside, after which he passed Hamilton on the outside in the fourth corner. Verstappen did end up outside the track when he finished the catch-up movement. An illegal maneuver, in which case he was obliged to return the lead to Hamilton on the next straight line.
In the last three laps, Verstappen did everything he could to catch up with the Brit. Only in the last lap did he really close, but another attack was no longer possible. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff meanwhile grabbed his hair from tension. Hamilton scored his 96th GP victory with just 0.745 seconds ahead of Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas finished third after a late pit stop almost 40 seconds away, but still took the point for the fastest lap.
Behind the usual top three was Lando Norris best of the rest in fourth place. He finished six seconds ahead of Sergio Pérez, who finished fifth in a very good catch-up race. Charles Leclerc took a nice sixth place for Ferrari, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. Newcomer Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) ended up in ninth place after a very strong second part of the competition and thus immediately gained his first points in F1. Lance Stroll took the last point for Aston Martin.
Chunks for Vettel, Schumacher finishes first race
Stroll’s teammate Sebastian Vettel will leave Bahrain with a hangover. The four-time world champion was never really able to participate in the fight for points after his poor qualification, although he had a nice duel with Alonso and Sainz on old tires. Later in the race, Vettel drove Esteban Ocon (Alpine) off the track and was penalized for this. Ultimately, the German would only be fifteenth. Just ahead of fellow countryman Mick Schumacher, who finished his first F1 race as sixteenth and last.
The next race is in three weeks. Then the Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna is on the program in Imola.