Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix in the opening round of the new Formula One season. He and his Mercedes team executed perfectly for a gripping and unlikely victory, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen into second place, with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas in third.
Lando Norris was an excellent fourth for McLaren with Sergio Pérez doing well to recover in his Red Bull to finish fifth having started at the back after a mechanical problem on the formation lap.
Mercedes did all they could with an alternate tyre strategy to give Hamilton a shot at Verstappen at the Sakhir circuit, while Red Bull held their nerve and stuck to their own plan. The two drivers were in a race of their own out front and a cat and mouse series of pit stops ensued but after both had stopped twice, Verstappen emerged eight seconds behind Hamilton, who was leading with 16 laps to go.
On fresher rubber, the Dutchman chased him down and in an enthralling finish passed his rival for the lead, but immediately had to give the place back, having veered off track in the process of overtaking. He tried everything to once more pass but the world champion, on worn tyres, held his place for a remarkable win against the team that had been on top all weekend.
Red Bull had chosen to bring Verstappen in on lap 40 for his final pitstop, taking the hard tyres for a 16-lap straight fight for victory. Verstappen set about the task and duly flew, catching the champion on lap 50. Two laps later he was on his gearbox as Hamilton’s worn tyres told and the abortive overtake came at turn four on lap 53.
There were three laps to try again for the lead but Verstappen could not get close enough and Hamilton showed all his experience to hold on.
The victory will be of immense satisfaction to the world champion, coming as it did with Mercedes having been under the cosh against Red Bull all weekend. Hamilton had conceded the advantage lay firmly with Red Bull, confirmed when Verstappen took pole by four-tenths of a second.
Yet when it mattered – as they have done so many times in the past – Mercedes and Hamilton were able to find another level. The team has been superlative at an operational level in winning the last seven drivers’ and constructors’ championships and they once again executed to perfection here. They could not match the Red Bull for pace but still pulled off a tactical coup.
Hamilton is attempting to secure a record eighth world championship this season and is closing in other milestones too. This is his 96th win, four off a century that no driver has achieved. The world champion knows he is up against it this season and securing every point possible may prove vital in a title fight that may go to the wire. Maximising a difficult start to the year does not solve their issues, however.
Thirty years after his father first raced Mick Schumacher, the 22-year-old son of Michael, the seven-times world champion, had a spin in his Haas early in the race on his F1 debut but recovered to finish in 16th.
The double world champion Fernando Alonso, returning to F1 after a two-year absence, had to retire with brake problems on lap 34. Charles Leclerc was in sixth for Ferrari with his teammate Carlos Sainz eighth; Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for McLaren. The rookie Yuki Tsunoda made a superb debut for AlphaTauri, finishing ninth, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in 10th.