Hamilton beat Verstappen to victory in F1’s 2021 opener despite the Red Bull driver’s pace advantage, by hanging on after Mercedes’ aggressive strategy calls got the world champion ahead and Verstappen went too wide at the Bahrain track’s controversial Turn 4 right-hander as the pair went wheel-to-wheel in the closing stages.
Verstappen swept around Hamilton’s outside as the pair approached the corner, getting ahead before having to catch an oversteer snap and sliding beyond the kerbs at the edge of the track.
Red Bull ordered Verstappen to give the place back and he did not get another chance to make a second pass for the lead, with Hamilton winning by 0.7 seconds.
After the race, Hamilton said of his rival’s defeat: “We were fortunate today with Max going wide in Turn 4 but that won’t happen again I’m pretty sure.
“So, we’ve got to do better, we’ve got to be smarter in how we navigate through our weekends with the fact that we don’t have the fastest car at the moment.
“But that’s all good for me, I don’t mind having to pull out extra in order to make the difference.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas finished the Bahrain race in third place – 37s off the lead after losing time battling Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the opening stages, having his second pitstop go wrong with a slow right-front wheel change, and taking an extra late stop to successfully chase the race’s fastest lap bonus point.
The pair’s points haul meant Mercedes left Bahrain with a 13-point lead, with Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez finishing fifth after a turbulent weekend, which featured a shock Q2 exit and his car losing all power due to an electrical problem on the formation lap that meant he had to start the race from the pitlane.
But Red Bull’s overall performance in Bahrain confirmed that it currently has F1’s fastest car and Bottas suggested that Mercedes will have to be flawless across each coming event if it is preserve its current points lead.
“We don’t have the fastest car at the moment, we need to be perfect in every other area,” said the Finn. “But we obviously want to have the fastest car as well, so we need to keep working.
“As a team, if we were told in winter testing that we’re going to be two cars in the top three, one of them winning the race and getting more points than Red Bull, we definitely would have taken this.
“So, yeah, as a team, strong performance overall – but there’s still things we need to do better and we can do better – but it’s a start and it’s early days in the season.”