Bahrain 2021: Joy and Heartbreak
Hamilton holds Verstappen to an arms-length... just, to take victory in the Middle East.
I think we've all caught our breath... mostly.
Saturday's qualifying session promised a scintillating Grand Prix which absolutely delivered. Max Verstappen secured a dominant pole position but was left to fend for himself against both Mercedes' after his teammate was shockingly eliminated from Q2.
There was incident before the race had even started as Sergio Perez pulled over, but manged to recover power to his RB16B, but the damage was done; he had failed to make the starting grid and as such was forced to start from the pitlane - meanwhile the field cruised around for a second formation lap.
The race finally got underway and Verstappen brilliantly held off both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, but Charles Leclerc passed Bottas for third place in slick fashion. Nikita Mazepin followed up with his series of spins from practice and qualifying, by sliding off of the racing surface and smashing into a tyre wall. Thankfully, he was ok, but his F1 debut had lasted three corners, was left in shards of carbon and necessitated a safety car.
The remains of Mazepin's Haas. (Credit: F1)
Racing continued on lap four and the Dutchman Verstappen smartly held up the pack right until the final possible moment, in effect shortening the length of the straight (and in-turn any slipstream) and giving himself the best chance of keeping the lead at turn 1. Hamilton followed in hot pursuit with Leclerc, Bottas and the fast-starting Pierre Gasly scrapping behind him. Lando Norris seemed to come alive at the restart, pulling off move after move, surgically progressing up the field.
Even more drama was to follow as Pierre Gasly was clipped by Daniel Ricciardo, severing Gasly's front wing from his nose; Mick Schumacher looped his car round in sympathy. After the first 10 laps, Verstappen and Hamilton had sailed away from the rest of the field, the Dutchman holding the recently knighted Hamilton to a slender margin.
Bottas suffered a disastrous pit stop of more than ten seconds, giving Verstappen more breathing room, and swinging the advantage pendulum back to Red Bull - Hamilton had already pitted at this point.
Red Bull delivered a perfect pitstop of 1.9 seconds for Verstappen, the well-choreographed melody of wheel-guns and jacks operating like a well oiled machine. As the lap count fell, so too did Verstappen's gap to Hamilton, the Dutchman getting faster and faster.
Like the lion he uses as his mascot, Verstappen pounced on his Mercedes prey aggressively forcing his way past Hamilton; it was not to last as Verstappen ceded the position back to the reigning champion as it appeared he has made the move outside the confines of the track limits.
Hamilton was left to take victory by a tiny seven tenths of a second, as his teammate Bottas settled for a distant third - a distance of nearly 40 seconds. It was a titanic battle, leaving nails bitten and legs fidgeting. Red Bull had outclassed Mercedes on pace and on strategy - but the victory was taken from them by a factor of inches.
Hamilton celebrates with his team (Credit: Mercedes AMG F1)
Shock of the Race: Sebastian Vettel
The German was forced to start last on his debut for Aston Martin, and clumsily crashed with Ocon, capping off an awful weekend.
Battle of the Race: Hamilton vs Verstappen
No need to explain this one, right?
Overtake of the Race: Sainz on Vettel and Alonso
Alonso took the initiative and dived on Vettel, locking up and leaving the door open for Carlos Sainz. Simple, clean and beautiful.
Driver of the Day: Sergio Perez
From the Pitlane to P5 - Classic Perez.
Race Rating: 8/10
An utterly brilliant race, carried by the mammoth battle of Hamilton and Verstappen.