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Sir Lewis Hamilton won the first race of the season for the first time since the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, and he did it in nail-biting fashion, holding off Max Verstappen in the closing laps. It was an absolute thriller of an opening race, with hopes of this season being the most competitive in terms of a title fight for years.
The drama started before the lights had even gone out, with Sergio Perez pulling up on the formation lap after his RB16B looked to have simply died on him. Luckily, he managed to get it running again and limped back into the pit-lane where he would have to start from the back of the grid. Sergio Perez in P20 in Bahrain? Sounds familiar…
As the lights went out, Verstappen got a great start and quickly shut off any chance of an overtake by Hamilton who was beside him on the grid. It was a clean start, with no one really tangling except Nikita Mazepin who spun himself out of the race at turn three and ending his first Formula 1 race before it really got going. After an appearance in the Formula 2 races over the weekend, we finally got a glimpse of the new Aston Martin Safety Car which was called out due to the Russian’s spin.
As the Safety Car drifted back into the pits, Verstappen reported a bit of trouble with his throttle but kept the lead as the racing resumed finally. Pierre Gasly then lost his front wing during a tussle with Danny Ricciardo which dashed the Frenchman’s hopes of a decent result. The replacement front wing set Gasly back quite a bit and he never recovered from it, DNF’ing with only a few laps to the end.
Perez had started his ascent through the field, making his way into P13 before everyone else knew it. He was well inside the midfield battle he used to find himself in all the time in previous years, but in this Red Bull there was no competition, and he carried on carving his way through the field.
Hamilton was the first to pit of the leading pack, putting on the hard tyres and covering himself from a Verstappen undercut, who pitted a few laps later than expected. Verstappen’s late pit-stop allowed Hamilton to pull the undercut off on the Dutch driver, who quickly started to knock Hamilton’s lead down on his fresh medium tyres.
After a relatively short stint on the hard tyres, Hamilton was called into the pits again for a fresh set of hards which momentarily gave Verstappen the lead before he was called in. The Red Bull mechanics pulled off a fiery 1.9s stop and sent the young veteran out on the hard compounds, needing to find 8 seconds on the leading Hamilton.
Slowly but surely, Verstappen got himself onto the gearbox of Hamilton with only a few laps left for him to go for a move which set up a grand finale for the season opener. Max was just too far at turn 1, but got the traction out of the exit of 2 and 3 and sent one around the outside of the seven-time World Champion at turn 4 and stuck it, coming away as the leader of the race.
But it didn’t end there, replays showed that Verstappen had just dipped all four tyres off the track when overtaking him which meant he would have to either give the position back to Hamilton or suffer an inevitable penalty from race control. Verstappen gave back the position but stayed right on the gearbox of the Mercedes, sniffing for another move.
Unfortunately he didn’t get another chance. Hamilton somehow managed to keep him behind in a race where he didn’t think he was going to win at all. It was heartbreak for Verstappen, who also lost the fastest lap to Valtteri Bottas after he pitted for fresh tyres on the penultimate lap to grab the extra point.
It was an insane start to the season, with plenty more drama taking place throughout the field. Sergio Perez ended up 5th, in another excellent performance in Bahrain for the Mexican. Lando Norris finished in P4 which was great start for McLaren who will be looking to cement themselves as a top 3 team as the season continues.