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After months of uncertainty, Formula 1 finally got going at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain.

Pre-season tests showed that Red Bull Racing had vastly improved on their race pace. Similarly, Mclaren and Alpha Tauri have bumped up their cars power output, but the most significant improvement came from Ferrari.

The Maranello squad which had a lackluster season last year had pundits taking notice. Everybody it seems has upped their game to bring the fight to the defending champions.

Before the seasoned opened, Lewis Hamilton was very vocal on wanting to be challenged on-track, the seven-time champ minced no words and made it known that he (and the fans) wanted a closer fight in each and every race.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in action during the race REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Looks like Hamilton will get what he wished for based on what happened in Bahrain.

From the opening lap, it was Red Bull firmly in control of the race, Max Verstappen vaulted off the line to lead the field, with Lewis opting to follow the Flying Dutchman until the first round of pit stops. Mercedes blinked first to bring in Hamilton on Lap 14, swapping his Pirelli mediums for the hard compound tires. Valtteri Bottas came in a few laps later to try the undercut but Red Bull didn’t react to the Merc strategy, keeping Verstappen out longer. This strategy favored Red Bull as Verstappen who now has fresher tires, could take the fight to Hamilton, who was now out in front. 

In the dying laps it was evident that Lewis was struggling for grip, which allowed Verstappen to be constantly in DRS range. With the RBR gamble about to pay off, Max was relentless in his pursuit. Then on lap 53/56, Verstappen zipped past Hamilton to take the lead. Unfortunately, the Red Bull pit wall saw that Max went past the track limits, and ordered their driver to hand the place back to Lewis to avoid a penalty. Dutifully, Verstappen slowed down just enough to let the Briton by. 

Ever the tactician, Hamilton took the lead, and expertly “planted” his car right smack in the middle of the track whenever he sensed Verstappen was about to attack, it was tense battle right to the checkered flag. Lewis took the win just ahead of Verstappen by the narrowest of margins. Bottas took 3rd, and as extra point for fastest lap of the race.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning the race on the podium with the trophy
REUTERS/Lars Baron

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Winner: Yuki Tsunoda, was by far the biggest surprise this season, the rookie became the first Japanese driver to score a championship point in his very first F1 race. Tsunoda clawed his way from P13 to finish 9th (2pts).

Winners: Ferrari and Mclaren. After a dreadful 2020 season the Scuderia managed to provide a competitive car for this season, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz jr. finished 6th and 8th, respectively. Similarly, the Woking squad had a decent start, Norris climbed three places to finish in 4th (Norris) while Daniel dropped a place to finish in 7th.

Loser: Nikita Mazepin. The Russian made his debut Formula 1 race in the most horrid way possible, the Hass rookie started in P19, and, just after two corners his race ended. Nikita, failed to control his car, spun out on his own at the exit of turn three and straight into the barriers. The debris from his wreck also brought out the first safety car of the season.

Loser: Sebastian Vettel. Prior to the race, the stewards slapped a 5-place grid penalty to the German for ignoring yellow flags during qualifying; Seb began the race dead last. While Vettel did manage to move up five places, it was a race more akin to a rookie than a former 4-time world champ. Sebastian needs to hunker down, stoke the fire, and, focus on battling his way up the sharp end of the grid.   

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