Bottas was in for his stop on lap 31 but a stubborn right front tyre coming off hurt his victory hopes, costing him 10.9sec. He fed back out in fifth position over half a minute off the lead.
Leclerc and Ricciardo both fitted new hard tyres on lap 33 in the best of the rest battle with Norris heading in a lap later. He retained position ahead of his two pursuers.
Alonso’s first race back was over on lap 34. The Alpine driver reportedly ran out of rear brakes.
Hamilton was pushing to try and keep his tyres in shape to the end but eat into Verstappen’s lead. The Mercedes driver was warned over track limits abuses at Turn Four with just under 20 laps remaining as the pendulum swung back into Red Bull’s favour strategy-wise.
2020 team-mates Perez and Stroll were in close combat following the Mexican driver’s third stop of the night on lap 40. The Aston Martin saw off the Red Bull attempts into Turn Four but was a sitting duck with DRS the following lap.
Verstappen’s final stop came on lap 40. He was serviced in just 1.9sec with fresh hards, setting up a 16 lap-shootout until the end and a 8.6sec gap to Hamilton to make up.
That gap was quickly down to 6.6 in the space of two laps as the Dutchman lit up his fresh tyres on the way to a fastest lap.
Leading on lap 43, Hamilton took the F1 record of laps led, — while on his 5112th — but with a rival breathing down his neck eager to limit that number.
The sister Red Bull surged by Ricciardo on lap 44 for P6 in a busy evening.
Vettel and Ocon came to blows at Turn One but a lock-up for the four-time champion tipped the Frenchman into a spin trying to retake the racing line.
The other Aston was relegated to ninth by Sainz with 10 laps to go, taking the place under-braking and claiming the inside of first corner.
The leaders cleared the final bit of traffic separating them on lap 48 with a gap of 2.7sec in Hamilton’s favour.
With seven laps to go, the gap was down to 1.5sec but agonisingly just outside of DRS range with the laps ticking down. Both drivers were left to it by their race engineers in radio silence.
Lap 51 and Hamilton began to weave on the straights in hopes of breaking the tow and maintain his advantage at the front.
A lock-up into Turn Nine sent the Mercedes off and the gap under a second with five laps to go.
With DRS, Verstappen closed to within 0.5sec.
Four laps remaining and Verstappen was in touching distance and side-by-side into Turn One and with a cutback advantage up the hill, the Red Bull surged around the outside to take the lead, but with all four wheels off the track.
He let Hamilton back through with three laps to go but still within a second. Verstappen started to short-shift to limit the rear degredation in the dying laps in a titanic battle to the end.
The penultimate lap began with the gap back up and crucially back to over a second. Verstappen clawed back into DRS for Turn Nine starting the final lap.
Through the final DRS zone the gap was down to 0.3sec but crucially Verstappen couldn’t make him crack, and Hamilton claimed a brilliant win.
2021 Bahrain Grand Prix race results
|1||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||1hr 32min 3.897sec||25|
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+0.745sec||18|
|5||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||+52.047||10|
|7||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||+1min 06.004sec||6|
|8||Carlos Sainz||Ferrari||+1min 07.100sec||4|
|9||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||+1min 25.692sec||2|
|10||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+1min 26.713sec||1|
|11||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo||+1min 28.864sec|
|12||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+1 lap|
|13||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+1 lap|
|14||George Russell||Williams||+1 lap|
|15||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+1 lap|
|16||Mick Schumacher||Haas||+1 lap|
*Includes additional point for fastest lap