The Bahrain Grand Prix distilled down to a straight fight between Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, of the sort followers of the sport have been anticipating for years.
It was full of richness and intrigue – a tense and gripping strategic fight between F1’s two top drivers and two greatest teams from which, to emerge triumphant, Hamilton was required to draw upon all his skill and experience.
And the result was decided by both wheel-to-wheel racing and a dash of controversy, when Verstappen was forced to hand back the lead he had just taken because he had gone off the track while doing it.
“I loved every minute of it,” Hamilton said. “Every minute of the weekend I’ve loved. We knew we were behind in performance. These guys [Red Bull] have done a better job so far. So to come away with this knowing we were not the fastest this weekend is a real result.
“We were fortunate today with Max going wide in Turn Four. But that won’t happen again, I’m sure. So we have to do better and be smarter, with the fact we don’t have the fastest car at the moment. But that’s all good for me – I don’t mind having to pull out extra in order to make the difference.”
Mercedes were left dumbstruck at how they had pulled off what Hamilton had at one stage thought was “pretty much impossible”, while Red Bull were left ruing what might have been. It sets up what could be a classic season beautifully.
The incident that decided the race
Hamilton’s victory hung on a moment of major contention.
After Verstappen had closed in remorselessly on the Mercedes after his final pit stop, he passed Hamilton around the outside at Turn Four with four laps to go. But he ran off the track while doing so, and immediately Red Bull were told by race director Michael Masi to hand the position back.
Verstappen did so. It appeared as if it would only be a matter of time before he got the move done again, but he never got quite close enough to have another go.
It’s never especially satisfying to have a sporting event decided by the call of a referee, especially a controversial one, and this one was certainly that.
Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff said he was “confused”; his Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner was “frustrated”. Verstappen was his usual matter-of-fact self. “It is what it is,” he said.
The moment was heavy with irony as well as controversy.
Earlier in the race, Red Bull had complained to Masi that the Mercedes drivers were running wide at Turn Four. That prompted Masi to get on to Mercedes to tell them to warn their drivers that they would be penalised if they continued to transgress.
Hamilton was angry at the time, and afterwards accused the officials of “changing their minds halfway through the race”.
And yet it was Verstappen, whose team had triggered the whole thing, who ended up losing out most.