Formula 1 2021: Lewis Hamilton fights off persistent Max Verstappen to win season-opening Bahrain GP
Mercedes star Hamilton edged out pole-sitter Max Verstappen in his Red Bull, with Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes rounding out the podium.
Sakhir: Lewis Hamilton produced another stunning demonstration of his supreme racing talent on Sunday to resist a charging Max Verstappen and win a thrilling season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The defending seven-time champion defended with supreme skill over the closing laps in his Mercedes to hold off the Red Bull driver and claim a record-stretching 96th Formula One victory.
Hamilton came home seven-tenths of a second ahead of the Dutchman, who was forced to hand back the race lead in the closing laps after passing the champion with a move that had taken him off the track and beyond the limits.
As expected, Hamilton and his heir apparent delivered an exhilarating exhibition of racing as they stormed to the flag – the pair leaving third-placed Valtteri Bottas, in the second Mercedes, to finish adrift by 37 seconds.
It was Hamilton's first season-opening triumph since 2015 and surprised many observers after Red Bull had dominated pre-season testing and two days of practice and qualifying ahead of the race.
"Firstly, can I just say it's the first time I've seen fans in a long time," said a delighted Hamilton.
"What a difficult race that was – stopping early we knew it was going to be tough, but we had to cover Max and it was always going to take something pretty special to do it."
A disappointed Verstappen said: "Of course, it's a shame, but you also have to see the positives. We're putting the fight on to them so it's great to start the year like that"
Lando Norris was fourth for McLaren ahead of Sergio Perez, who had started from the pit lane in the second Red Bull, Charles Leclerc of Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo, of McLaren.
Carlos Sainz was eighth for Ferrari ahead Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri and Aston Martin's Lance Stroll.
Three-time Formula One world champion Nelson Piquet on Wednesday apologised "wholeheartedly" to Lewis Hamilton after using a racially offensive term to describe the Mercedes star.
Red Bull terminated the contract of Formula One test and reserve driver Juri Vips on Tuesday for using a racist slur during an online gaming stream.
Piquet was discussing a crash between Hamilton and Max Verstappen during last year's British Grand Prix when Piquet used the word "neguinho".