The final few laps of the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix had a palpable sense of tension as Max Verstappen charged at Lewis Hamilton for the win. The Dutchman eventually passed the Briton but was forced to go beyond track limits to do so. At the behest of Red Bull, he had to give the place back, which ultimately cost him the win.
Understandably, Verstappen was quite annoyed and vocal that had he been allowed by Red Bull to carry on instead, he could have gapped Hamilton enough to make a subsequent time penalty meaningless.
Verstappen had been closing in on Hamilton at a brisk pace during the closing laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix, and it was clear that he was the faster of the two. After taking huge chunks out of Hamilton’s lead, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before Verstappen made the move for the lead.
Verstappen unhappy about Red Bull's decision
Despite Hamilton's best efforts, Verstappen passed him on Lap 53 after the second DRS Zone at Turn 4. Unfortunately for Verstappen, he went off track entirely when passing. Red Bull were immediately warned by the race director that Verstappen either had to give the position back or face investigation later. Confronted with the prospect of a five-second time penalty, the team advised the Dutchman to give back the position, who later said over the team radio:
Why didn’t you just let me go? I could have easily pulled those five seconds, I’d prefer to lose a win like that than be second like this.
We can imagine that one hurt. Red Bull boss Christian Horner explained to Verstappen over the team radio:
We had the instruction from race control unfortunately Max, that was a hell of a drive you put in there.
In a post-race interview, Verstappen said:
Once I got close, I had that one shot because Lewis got held up a bit with the backmarker and, yeah, I went outside of the track. I, of course, gave the position back and tried again, but by then my tyres were not in a good state to really put the pressure on so that was a shame.
It’s not the first time a race win has been decided as a result of infringing track limits, and it probably won’t be the last either. Obviously, a win decided by a track limit penalty is not an argument Formula 1 needs right now, especially after the first race of the year.