Defending F1 drivers champion Lewis Hamilton has got his title defence off to a winning start with victory in a scintillating opening race of the season.
- Lewis Hamilton has won the season-opening race for the first time since 2015
- Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished second, after starting on pole position
- Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo finished seventh for McLaren
The seven-time world champion held on in Bahrain against a flying Max Verstappen, who finished less than a second behind.
Verstappen was nine-seconds behind Hamilton after his final pitstop, and began hauling in his rival.
The Dutchman appeared to have taken the lead from Hamilton, but had to give up the lead immediately because he made the overtake while he was off the track.
This was enough for Hamilton to hold on for the closing three laps.
The British driver said the victory came in one of the toughest races he has had in recent memory.
“It’s going to take everything and more for us to put in performances like this, but we love the challenge. I love the challenge,” Hamilton said after the race.
“It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while.”
Verstappen led for the opening 17 laps of the race but was caught out by Mercedes during the opening pitstop period.
Mercedes pitted Hamilton four laps earlier than the Red Bull, when he was behind by one-and-a-half seconds.
When Verstappen exited the pits on lap 18, he trailed his rival by more than six seconds, but was driving with a faster tyre compound.
Verstappen’s second pitstop came 10 laps after Hamilton’s, with Red Bull believing their driver could chase down the Mercedes.
“Definitely stopping early, we knew was going to be difficult, but we had to cover Max,” Hamilton said.
After the race Verstappen said he was disappointed to lose the season-opener, but was looking for the silver-lining.
“It’s of course a shame but you also have to see the positive,” Verstappen said.
“We are really putting the fight onto [Mercedes], and I think that’s great to start the year like that.”
Mercedes’ other driver, Valtteri Bottas, finished third.
Bottas had the fastest lap of the race, which is worth one world-championship point.
Perez shines after car loses power on formation lap
The season started with an anti-climactic second formation lap required after Red Bull’s Sergio Perez lost power and pulled up on the side of the track.
That meant the opening race of the season was one-lap shorter.
Perez was able to get his car re-started and began the race from the pitlane.
He changed his tyres after the first lap when the safety car was deployed following debutant Nikita Mazepin’s crash at the third corner.
Perez then drove a superb race in his first outing for the Red Bull team, managing his tyres on a track known for tyre-wear.
The Mexican driver finished fifth, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the closing laps.
Daniel Ricciardo seventh in McLaren debut
It was a solid start for Australian Daniel Ricciardo who finished in the points in seventh in his first race for McLaren.
Starting from sixth on the grid, Ricciardo battled in the mid-field for the entirety of the race.
He lost out in the first pitstop phase, coming out behind cars who had pitted one lap earlier than him.
While the seventh-place finish is a good result, the Australian was out-paced by his teammate Lando Norris.
Norris showcased the ability of this year’s McLaren, guiding it to fourth.
Starting seventh on the grid, the British driver made a fast start and was into fifth position after the opening corners.
Once he passed the Ferrari of Leclerc he never looked like finishing outside of the top-four.
The results for McLaren continue their form from last season, where they finished third in the constructors’ championship.
Hamilton continues to take a knee before race
Hamilton continued his stand against racism and inequality by kneeling prior to the race.
In the wake of the protest following the death of black-American, George Floyd, Formula One drivers wore shirts and took a knee in their own protest in 2020.
Hamilton was one of the most vocal drivers about the need for societal change, and continued his stance before the first Grand Prix of the year.
Hamilton had said on Thursday that he planned to continue taking a knee to send a message to the younger generation.
“When [young children] see us take the knee, they will sit and ask their parents or their teachers ‘why are they doing that? What are they taking the knee for?'” he said.
“And it sparks an uncomfortable conversation.
“It means parents have to educate themselves and the kids are getting educated.”
Ricciardo, who also took a knee before races in 2020, kneeled with Hamilton before Sunday’s race.