Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes secured an incredible first win of the Formula One season at the opening Bahrain Grand Prix by coming out on top in a fierce battle with Max Verstappen of Red Bull over the final laps.
Polesitter Verstappen held position after a race start that saw one safety car in the first lap and a virtual safety car before five laps completed.
But an intense pit stop strategy made Hamilton and Verstappen alternate turns at the front through the entire race, dpa reported.
With only three laps to go, Verstappen cruised around the outside at Turn 4 to grab the lead but went outside track limits and had to return the position to Hamilton, who held on to win by less than 8 tenths of a second.
Valtteri Bottas took third in the other Mercedes but his slim hopes of challenging for the lead ended with a poor stop, though he did add the bonus point for fastest lap.
“What a difficult race that was. Pitting early we knew would be difficult, it was going to take something really special. I just managed to hold him off – it was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while,” the Briton said.
This was Hamilton’s 96th grand prix win in his career and his first in a season-opener since 2015 as he chases a record eighth world championship title.
A disconsolate Verstappen said during the cool down lap the team should have let him go and he could have pulled out the time gap had he been given a penalty.
But Red Bull said they had to follow a call from race control and the team, who dominated preseason testing, practice and qualifying sessions, had been hoping to secure their first win in an opening race in 10 years.
“It’s of course a shame, but you also have to see the positive. We’re putting the fight on to them [Mercedes], so it’s great to start the year like that,” Verstappen said.
A terrible 11-second pitstop dropped Bottas out of the lead battle as Mercedes once again messed up his tyres change just like last year in the same circuit.
Sergio Perez had a fantastic Red Bull debut to finish fifth after starting from the pitlane. He forced an extra formation lap after he pulled out with a blank steering wheel right before the race start.
McLaren and Ferrari starred in a fierce midfield battle but the British team got the best out of it with Lando Norris in fourth and Daniel Ricciard in seventh. The Italian team had Charles Leclerc in sixth and newcomer Carlos Sainz eighth.
Among the season’s rookies, Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri had the best result with a ninth place finish. Mick Schumacher of Haas was 16th, while teammate Nikita Mazepin spun and crashed as he did in practice sessions and retired the car in the first lap.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who’s returning to F1, also retired his Alpine car before the chequered flag and Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin debut ended in 15th though team-mate Lance Stroll completed the points in 10th.