Max Verstappen dominated all sessions leading up to the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Dutchman was on top of the timesheets for all three practice sessions and took pole in qualifying, pipping Lewis Hamilton by 0.388 seconds.
For the first time in the turbo-hybrid era, Mercedes were not favorites going into the Bahrain Grand Prix. Red Bull's pre-season, free practice and qualifying form suggested that the team had the faster and more reliable car. Some brave decisions and a scintillating drive from Hamilton gave the Brit the victory. The Bahrain Grand Prix weekend will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Max Verstappen and Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner.
Track limits drama at the Bahrain Grand Prix
While the two drivers produced an exciting race for the fans, their teams in the paddock played a huge role in the outcome. Mercedes and Red Bull were locked in a game of chess over their pit strategies, with both teams trying to keep the other in the dark.
Max Verstappen got off the line well. However, a safety car brought out by Nikita Mazepin's spin put the Dutchman under pressure. Lewis Hamilton is a master of restarts, but Verstappen held his nerve and fought off the challenge.
Mercedes were able to get back into the race with an undercut on Max's Red Bull which saw him lose track position to Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen eventually caught up to the Brit, but Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton again. Verstappen came out of his second and final pit-stop around 9 seconds behind the reigning world champion. The flying Dutchman displayed the true pace of his car as he caught up to Lewis Hamilton with six laps to go.
In what was a nail-biting conclusion to the race, Verstappen was within DRS range of the Brit in the closing laps. The 23-year-old passed the seven-time world champion going into Turn 4 on lap 54. However, the overtake was deemed illegal as Verstappen had gone off track to complete his maneuver. Drivers consistently ran wide at Turn 4 throughout the Bahrain Grand Prix, however, Max Verstappen was the only one to complete an overtake while breaching track limits. As a result, he was instructed to let Hamilton through to avoid getting a time penalty.
With three laps remaining, Verstappen struggled with his grip and ultimately couldn't overtake Hamilton again. The Brit somehow managed to keep the rapid Dutchman behind, even with tires that were 10 laps older than Verstappen's.
The Bahrain Grand Prix victory will be extra sweet for Mercedes and Hamilton because of how they achieved it. No neutral Formula 1 fan could have asked for a better start to the season. This was just round 1 of Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton, with all signs pointing towards the other 22 races being even more enthralling.