Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday after an epic, knife-edge thriller with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen over the final laps.
Verstappen, who passed the Briton with four laps to go only to have to hand back the lead for exceeding track limits, finished a mere 0.745 seconds behind after starting on pole position.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was third, 37.383 seconds behind after a slow stop, but the Finn gained a bonus point after pitting for fresh tyres late on to secure the fastest lap.
“Wow, what a difficult race that was,” said Hamilton, who started second on the grid and took another of Michael Schumacher’s all-time records with his 5,112nd race lap led in a strategic cat-and-mouse thriller.
“Max was all over me right at the end, but I just about managed to hold him off. It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while,” added the Briton, who had to negotiate the final laps on older and more worn tyres than his rival.
Towards the end, he simply told his race engineer to ‘leave me to it.”
The victory was a record-extending 96th for Hamilton, continuing also his run of winning in every season of his career since his debut with McLaren in 2007, but the first time he had won an opener since 2015.
“I had that one shot, went outside of the track and I then of course gave the position back and tried again but my tyres were not in the right state to put the pressure on,” said Verstappen.
The Dutch youngster had hoped he might be able to continue and pull far enough clear to absorb the inevitable time penalty, but Red Bull were clear on what he had to do.
“Once you have that instruction you have to move out of the way. It is tough racing, it is fair racing,” said team boss Christian Horner.
“I think the biggest winner today was the fans. It sets up a great season and I hope we see more battles between Max and Lewis this season,” he added.
Lando Norris finished fourth for McLaren while Verstappen’s new Mexican teammate Sergio Perez went from starting in the pit lane, after his car had stopped on the formation lap, to fifth place.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was sixth. Mick Schumacher, F2 champion and rookie son of seven-time champion Michael, was lapped and the last finisher in 16th for Haas.