Hamilton holds off Verstappen in electric duel: 2021 Bahrain GP lap by lap

F1

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen fought wheel to wheel for the win for the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix, but it was the reigning champion who took the victory

Max Verstappen follows Lewis Hamilton in the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

Florent Gooden/DPPI

Lewis Hamilton secured a magnificent victory in Bahrain over Max Verstappen in one of F1’s most memorable battles in recent years.

The hopes were that Red Bull would be in a position to take the fight to Mercedes in 2021, and the first race of the year showed that this season is shaping up to be an electric fight between an all-time great and clear contender to the crown.

Red Bull had looked the quicker package since winter testing and Verstappen claimed pole in Bahrain, but the close race pace suggests that the battle could rage until the finale in Abu Dhabi in December.

A strategic dice between the Mercedes and Red Bull pitwalls saw the two drivers trade the lead as they pitted at different times, culminated in Verstappen, on fresher tyres, hunting down Hamilton at the close.

It was a speedy formation lap by Verstappen but before the Dutchman could lead the field back onto the grid, team-mate Sergio Perez’s Red Bull crawled to a halt ahead of the penultimate corner.

The Mexican had the control electronics unit changed as a precaution pre-race but issues materialised on the formation lap and it prevented the initial start, triggering another formation lap.

Max Verstappen leads at the start of the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

Verstappen led from pole at the start

Frederic Le Floc'h/DPPI

At the second start, Verstappen got the better launch from the front and immediately covered off Hamilton to retain the lead.

Valtteri Bottas held off Charles Leclerc for third into the first corner, but up the hill into Turn Four the Ferrari nipped underneath the Finn and secured the place with a tidy cutback move into the downhill esses.

Nikita Mazepin’s F1 debut lastest just a handful of corners; his Haas spearing off the track at Turn Three and into the outside barriers, too eager on throttle in pursuit of the field.

Having been forced to start from the pitlane after restarting his RB16B, Perez took the opportunity to pit for used medium tyres before the safety car was withdrawn on lap four.

Verstappen waited until the final possible moment to counteract the strong headwinds that emerged for raceday but Hamilton was alongside him  into the first corner, the Red Bull holding him off once more.

Pierre Gasly’s great qualifying was quickly a distant memory after contact on the restart into Turn Five took the front wing off the AT02 after slight contact with the rear of Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren.

Haas of Nikita Mazepin after crashing at the start of the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

Another Haas in the wall at Turn Three: Mazepin lap one crash triggered a safety car

Florent Gooden / DPPI

Haas’s evening was made even worse as Mick Schumacher suffered a repeat of his team-mate’s mistake and spun out of Turn Four and into last place.

Verstappen reported issues over the team radio but led Hamilton on the resumption of racing on lap five after a brief virtual safety car spell.

Bottas made the most of DRS on lap six to take back third into the first corner from Leclerc and despite a lock-up into four, retained the place from the Monégasque driver.

A string of fastest laps from the leader kept Hamiton at a 1.5sec gap despite an apparent differential issue.

Lando Norris held station at the start but Leclerc had fallen back into the McLaren’s grasp. An optimistic attempt around the outside of Turn Four didn’t quite work but Norris was past into Turn One with DRS, leaving Leclerc to fend off Ricciardo. Lance Stroll put in an identical DRS pass on Fernando Alonso for P7 behind.

Perez’s recovery through the field was rapid. The Mexican up to P13 by the end of lap 10 despite his dramas at the start and subsequent pit stop. DRS up the hill into Turn Four and Perez scythed by Esteban Ocon for P12 a lap later.

Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris in the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

Norris passed team-mate Ricciardo then fought his way past Leclerc at the start

Florent Gooden / DPPI

Alonso was the first to pit in the top 10 for a fresh set of medium tyres, in what was an early stop for an optimum two-stop strategy.

His stop brought Norris and Leclerc in on the following lap and Stroll and Giovinazzi from the lower reaches of the top 10, kicking off the first pitstop phase.

The McLaren and Ferrari rejoined ahead of the two-time champion but Stroll lost out to the undercut having passed Alonso.

Hamilton had maintained a 1.7sec gap to Verstappen but was in on lap 14 for hard tyres in a Mercedes undercut attempt.

Ricciardo responded to his team-mate’s stop as well but the extra lap put him out behind Alonso in P12.

A 1.4sec quicker middle sector from Hamilton against Verstappen on the outlap put him within range of an overtake and Red Bull kept its driver out on an alternative strategy.

Bottas was brought in from second on lap 17 to fit hard tyres, rejoining in fourth behind his team-mate and the recovering Perez.

Verstappen responded finally on lap 18, with new fresh medium tyres the differentiator. He rejoined into second behind Hamilton to the tune of 7sec. Bottas made quick work of the second Red Bull later in the lap into Turn 11 with DRS to set about chasing down the leading pair. Perez was in for his second stop of the day on lap 20.

Lewis Hamilton ahead of Max Verstappen in the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

Early first stop from Hamilton gained him the lead over Verstappen

Frederic Le Floc'h/DPPI

Vettel was up to eighth but yet to stop having started from last and holding up Alonso in a duel with little love lost between both parties.

The Alpine driver had DRS into Turn Four but a late-braking defence almost resulted in contact, with Vettel holding onto the position.

Alonso breezed by on the following lap into Turn One but a lock-up opened the door to Carlos Sainz who had joined the party.

The Ferrari blasted past up the hill and with a double-helping of DRS, Vettel followed through and snuck his Aston Martin back through for ninth. Locking his brakes into the first corner on the next lap undid the hard work though and allowed his rival back past.

Hamilton’s pace in front was not as quick as the two behind and Verstappen had halved the gap to the leader by lap 23 following his stop to 3.8sec. Bottas was a further 3.8sec back from the Red Bull in a finely-poised middle stint of the race.

Verstappen was reeling in the lead Mercedes with blistering pace. “I can’t go any quicker” was Hamilton’s response over the team radio.

Just as the Red Bull made it to within 2sec, Hamilton was brought in for a second stop to fit another set of fresh hard tyres.

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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.

Lewis Hamilton lifts the winners trophy from the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix race results

Position Driver Team Time Points
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1hr 32min 3.897sec 25
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.745sec 18
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +37.383sec 16*
4 Lando Norris McLaren +46.466sec 12
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull +52.047 10
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +59.090 8
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
DNF Nicholas Latifi Williams
DNF Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri
DNF Fernando Alonso Alpine
DNF Nikita Mazepin Haas

*Includes additional point for fastest lap