Hamilton wins tight battle for Bahrain victory

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Bahrain, Bahrain International Circuitbh

Lewis Hamilton has won the Bahrain Grand Prix after a very close battle with Max Verstappen in the closing stages of the race. Verstappen finished furiously in second after having to give up first place for exceeding track limits. Bottas completed the podium for Mercedes.

The start of the first race of the 2021 season wasn't without trouble, as Red Bull's Sergio Perez came to a halt in the warmup lap. His car shut down after Turn 11, leaving the Mexican stranded aside of the track while rebooting his car and talking to his team.

As it took a minute, the start was abandoned so that everybody else had to complete another installation lap. Perez meanwhile managed to drive his car back to the pits, and immediately went on to park it at the exit of the pits to start the race from there.

The others on the grid did make a clean start, with the front runners maintaining their positions. Verstappen held the inside line into Turn 1 to defend the corner. Behind them, Bottas held third, but Leclerc found a way past the Mercedes driver to take third at Turn 4.

At the back, Mazepin veered off the track on the exit of Turn 3. He was unharmed, but the event required a 3-lap safety car to get everything cleared.

The restart was another messy affair that started with Verstappen keeping the speed low until the very last moment. It saw Hamilton and Leclerc both coming very close to challenge for P1 into Turn 1, but again, the Dutchman held the inside line under braking to maintain first.

Haas's Mick Schumacher spun at Turn 4 but managed to keep on going while Pierre Gasly was a bit eager in staying close to Ricciardo and ended up losing his front wing when Daniel resumed the racing line. Gasly has to get back to the pits to return racing in last place after changing to hard tyres as well.

Sergio Perez meanwhile pitted on the first lap even, changing to a different set of medium tyres. His first laps were clean, and as he kept out of trouble, the Mexican had moved up into 12th by lap 10.

In front, Bottas and Norris got ahead of Leclerc, with the top three then running away from the rest as they started to suffer on their soft tyres from qualifying.

Alonso and Alpine soon decided they had enough of the soft and pitted on lap 12. As if the Spaniard set an example, Norris, Leclerc, Stroll and Giovinazzi all followed suit, bringing Alonso again in front of Stroll after the latter has passed the Alpine on track 5 laps earlier.

Lewis Hamilton pitted one lap later and switched medium to hard tyres. That gave him an edge in the next few laps as the Mercedes seemingly worked very well on that compound. A few fastest laps were enough for Hamilton to take the lead when Verstappen pitted on lap 16.

As Verstappen dropped 6s to Hamilton, Bottas followed 4s behind in 3rd, just like his Mercedes team mate on the harder tyre. Sergio Perez was another 4s further behind until he pitted for a second time on lap 19. He took on hard tyres and returned to the track in 11th, soon making up a few positions again as Vettel, Sainz, Alonso were all fighting closely ahead of him.

Raikkonen was moving forward on hard tyres, Alonso appeared unable to defend any position and Vettel just gave away some positions by going wide at Turn 4. Sainz was the winner out of this pack, showing that the Ferrari can seemingly follow others a bit more closely, as well as having the power to get past competitors on the straights.

Sergio Perez however nicely followed Sainz as he made progress, and eventually took over by passing the Ferrari around the outside of Turn 4 after a helpful DRS-enabled draft.

At the very front, Verstappen closely closed the gap to Hamilton down to 1.8s. Then, Hamilton pitted again, changing 15-lap old hards for another new set of hard tyres. Two laps later, Bottas pitted again for the same tyre switch, but the Finn endured a 10.9s pitstop as his mechanics struggled to dismount the right front tyre.

Bottas returned to the track just ahead of Norris, but he moved back up into their as Norris and Leclerc pitted.

Fernando Alonso was worse off and pitted to retire from the race with a brake problem.

16 laps from the end, the race leader eventually pitted and changed to hard tyres. Another blistering Red Bull pitstop in just 1.9s brought Verstappen back out in second place, 8.6s down on Lewis Hamilton.

In case there was any doubt, Verstappen set a fastest lap and rapidly reduced that gap. Four laps later, the deficit is already just 4.4 seconds.

At that time, Vettel converted an anonymous race into an embarrassing one, as after getting passed by Ocon on the main straight, Vettel misjudged his braking point and ended up running into the back of the Alpine. Both men spun off, but both managed to continue.

As Verstappen edged ever closer, Hamilton asked his race engineer to leave him to it. It didn't make much of a difference as 5 laps from the end, Verstappen got into DRS range of Hamilton and soon came very close. Hamilton on the other hand was sliding the rear end of the car all over the place.

Hamilton strongly defended Turn 1 on lap 52, but subsequently got passed in Turn 3 by Verstappen. The Red Bull driver got a proper advantage, but just 4 corners later, Hamilton breezed past Verstappen on the back straight as the Dutchman allowed Hamilton to pass due to exceeded track limits on his pass. There was immediately a serious gap that resulted in Verstappen failing to open DRS until the final lap, but it wasn't enough, leaving Hamilton to take a hard-fought victory at Bahrain.

No matter who won today, tight battles till the final laps are what Formula One needs. Valtteri Bottas meanwhile finished third and took the fastest lap in the end after a late pitstop.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarLapsTimePts
144Lewis HamiltonMercedes AMG561:32:03.89725
233Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing Honda56+0.745s18
377Valtteri BottasMercedes AMG56+37.383s16
44Lando NorrisMcLaren Mercedes56+46.466s12
511Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing Honda56+52.047s10
616Charles LeclercFerrari56+59.090s8
73Daniel RicciardoMcLaren Mercedes56+66.004s6
855Carlos SainzFerrari56+67.100s4
922Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri Honda56+85.692s2
1018Lance StrollAston Martin Mercedes56+86.713s1
117Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari56+88.864s0
1299Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari55+1 lap0
1331Esteban OconAlpine Renault55+1 lap0
1463George RussellWilliams Mercedes55+1 lap0
155Sebastian VettelAston Martin Mercedes55+1 lap0
1647Mick SchumacherHaas Ferrari55+1 lap0
1710Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri Honda52DNF0
186Nicholas LatifiWilliams Mercedes51DNF0
NC14Fernando AlonsoAlpine Renault32DNF0
NC9Nikita MazepinHaas Ferrari0DNF0

Bottas scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.
Vettel received a 10-second time penalty for causing a collision.