Lewis Hamilton had to hold off pressure from Max Verstappen in the final laps at the Bahrain Grand Prix to seal victory in the opening race of the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix.
There was little to separate the two drivers in the closing stages of the race, while Valtteri Bottas cruised home for third, setting the fastest lap of the race.
There was drama before the race when Sergio Perez pulled to the side of the track on the parade lap, seemingly having lost all power in his Red Bull. The Mexican was able to get the car going again, but he had to start the race from the pitlane.
The new Aston Martin safety car was in action early on as Nikita Mazepin’s F1 debut came to an abrupt end, as the Haas driver veered wide and into the barrier at turn 3 on the opening lap.
Pierre Gasly needed to make an early pitstop once the action resumed as last year’s Italian Grand Prix winner caught his front wing on the back of Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren, resulting in a brief Virtual Safety Car while the AlphaTauri debris was cleared.
Lando Norris started strongly, gaining several places early on before eventually getting the better of Charles Leclerc to climb up to fourth, while Leclerc’s teammate, Carlos Sainz, avoided damage after contact with Lance Stroll.
Fernando Alonso was the first of the top 10 to stop, resulting in Norris, Leclerc and Stroll all coming in a lap later. McLaren and Ferrari were able to get their drivers out ahead of the returning two-time champion, but Stroll lost out to the Spaniard.
Hamilton also looked to make the most of the undercut, with the reigning champion the first of the front runners to come in for fresh tyres, but Red Bull didn’t react immediately, keeping Verstappen out for a longer first stint.
The Dutchman came in four laps later, but Hamilton’s times on new tyres were enough to hand him the race lead. The Briton was in the pitlane again at the halfway point, while Bottas was told to stay out longer to cover Verstappen, but the Finn was in just one lap later, and was stationary for more than 10 seconds as one of the tyres was slow to come off.
Verstappen stayed out longer, leaving him on fresher tyres for the final part of the race, but Hamilton held a lead of almost 9 seconds as the Red Bull driver returned to the track. That lead was cut to under four seconds with 10 laps remaining.
Alonso became just the second driver to retire from the race when Alpine spotted brake problems with his car, while Sebastian Vettel and Esteban Ocon both sustained front wing damage after the German ran into the rear of the Frenchman, spinning his Alpine, and resulting in a 10-second time penalty for Vettel.
Hamilton started to struggle on his tyres towards the end, locking up and running wide with five laps to go, bringing Verstappen within DRS range of the Mercedes.
Verstappen managed to get ahead on the 53rd lap, but he ran wide, and handed the place back to Hamilton to avoid a penalty. He tried to stay close to the rear of the Mercedes to challenge again, but Hamilton had enough pace to keep his car ahead, holding on for a narrow victory.
Perez recovered from his early issues to seal fifth behind Lando Norris, while teammate Ricciardo ensured both McLaren’s finished in the points, while both Ferraris were also in the top 10.
There were also points on debut for AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, but his teammate and Williams’s Nicholas Latifi were both brought into their garages late on.
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
4. Lando Norris (McLaren)
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
6. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
7. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
8. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
9. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
11. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
12. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
13. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
14. George Russell (Williams)
15. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)
16. Mick Schumacher (Haas)
Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
Nikita Mazepin (Haas)