A Thriller in Bahrain


Hamilton (above) defended brilliantly against a charging Verstappen in the closing laps to take the victory to start off the 71st Formula One season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

On Sunday, the 71st season of Formula 1 was finally underway with the Bahrain Grand Prix. After months of waiting and a week of testing, it was time to see what each of the 10 teams came up with and for us to see if we were going to have a proper title fight this year. 

And I can say that based on the season opener, we do have a title fight. 

The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton narrowly won the race while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was less than a second behind in second, with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas rounding out the podium in 3rd.

It was Verstappen who led during all three practice sessions. And heading into qualifying, he also got pole position by four-tenths ahead of Hamilton, who qualified second and Bottas in third. One surprise was the Alpha Tauri with Pierre Gasly, who qualified in fifth. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was eliminated in Q2, qualifying in 11th. Another welcome surprise was Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari, who qualified in fourth.

With qualifying out of the way, attention turned to the race. Red Bull, were faster all weekend, but you could never count out Hamilton and Mercedes. Before the race even started, Perez had an issue on the formation, which caused another additional formation lap and for Perez to start in last place from the pit lane. This shifted the balance to Mercedes because they could win on strategy since they had two cars upfront while Red Bull only had one.

When the lights finally went out, the race only lasted four corners before the Haas of rookie Nikita Mazpin crashed, bringing out the safety car for a couple of laps. Once the safety car entered and racing resumed, Verstappen led from Hamilton and then Bottas before a virtual safety car was brought out due to Gasly losing his front wing on the track due to an incident with McLaren’s Lando Norris. After that was cleared, we finally went back to racing, where Verstappen was able to hold Hamilton at bay. 

Then came the pit stops. Hamilton pitted first out of the front three to hopefully use his fresher tires and gain an advantage, while Verstappen had older and, therefore, slower tires. However, Verstappen did not respond by entering the pits, and it became clear that there were different strategies for the teams. Verstappen later came into the pits and gave Hamilton the lead before he pitted for a second time, giving the lead back to Verstappen. Then Verstappen entered the pits for a second time, but with tires that were 10 laps fresher than Hamilton to chase him down for the win. There were around 17 laps remaining, and Verstappen was on mediums which were faster than the hard tires on Hamilton. Then the chase began with Verstappen setting purple sectors and fastest laps to close the gap, setting up an amazing conclusion to the race.

It all came to a climax on lap 53 when Verstappen launched his move and passed Hamilton on the outside of turn four in a wheel-to-wheel battle. However, it was deemed that he was outside the track limits and therefore passed Hamilton illegally so Verstappen had to give the position back. 

Verstappen tried to pass him again, but Hamilton kept placing his car in all the right places to win the Bahrain Grand Prix and start the season off on the right foot. Verstappen finished seven tenths behind Hamilton with Bottas trailing by 37 seconds but with the fastest lap which gives him an extra point. 

Norris finished in fourth, with Perez in fifth, completing a remarkable recovery drive after his pit lane start. Leclerc finished in sixth, with Norris’ teammate Daniel Ricciardo finishing in seventh. Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz finished in eighth, while Gasly’s rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda claimed his first points in his debut race in ninth and the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll claiming the final points-paying position in 10th.

With all of that, the standings are the same order in which the drivers finished since this is the season opener. As for the Constructors, Mercedes leads with 41 points, with Red Bull in second with 28.  McLaren is in third with 18, Ferrari fourth with 12, Alpha Tauri in fifth with two and Aston Martin the last team in sixth with 1. The other teams don’t have any points yet, but their places are determined by where the drivers finish. For the complete standing for both the teams and drivers, check out the official Formula 1 website.

With the season opener done, there is a pause until the next race which will be held on April 18 in Italy at the Imola circuit. And if Bahrain has shown us anything, it should be another thrilling race with an intense midfield battle and a fight at the top for the win.