Lewis Hamilton admits that the last laps of the first race of the season in Bahrain were ‘horrifying’ because he thought there was no chance of defending against the much faster Max Verstappen in Red Bull.

Hamilton drove the last stint of the race on 11 laps older tyres older than Verstappen, who in ten laps reduced the gap behind the leader from eight to one second, and the only attack he launched was four laps before the end.

Although Verstappen managed to overtake Hamilton in the Turn 4, he had to return to his position because he went out of the track, even though the FIA allowed such a drive for more than half of the race.

“Firstly, can I just say it’s the first time I have seen fans in a long time, it’s so good to see people out here and everyone keeping their distance and staying safe,” said Hamilton.

“I’m so proud of what Formula One has been able to do, to start on a normal schedule this year and wow, what a difficult race that was!”

“It was scary,” Hamilton said for the final laps.

“It wasn’t great. I struggled with the rear end of the car, my rear tyres were worn out. I think they were about eight laps older than Max’s.”

2021 Bahrain GP Hamilton Mercedes Verstappen Red Bull finish line Photo Daimler
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen finish the 2021 Bahrain GP (Photo: Daimler)

“I knew he was going to catch me and I was thinking ‘it’s going to be almost impossible to keep him,’ which was actually true until the incident in the Turn 4.”

“After that, I barely managed to keep him behind.”

“He was right behind me, in my wake, and it was hard for him to get close in some places so he went wide, which gave me an advantage. This is a difficult track to follow.”

“Definitely by stopping early, we knew it would be difficult, but we had to cover Max and keep the track position in the lead. They have had an amazing performance all weekend, so it was going to take something pretty special to get the win tonight.”

“We stopped for that last stint and trying to find the right balance between pushing hard and saving tyre performance for the end of the race was difficult. And Max was all over me right at the end but I just about managed to hold him off. It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while.”

Hamilton – ‘We weren’t fastest this weekend’

Hamilton says he enjoyed a tense fight to win, something he hasn’t been used to since 2014 given Mercedes’ dominance and lack of threat from a team-mate after Rosberg’s withdrawal from the sport.

“I enjoyed every minute of the weekend even though I knew we as a team were behind them in terms of performance – Red Bull have done a better job so far,” he said.

“That’s why this is the right result for us because we weren’t the fastest this weekend.”

This was third consecutive win in Bahrain for Hamilton (2014, 2015, 2019, 2020 and 2021) and 96th in his Formula 1 career.

2021 Bahrain GP Hamilton Mercedes after the race out of the car with his team Photo Daimler
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his first win of 2021 F1 season, fifth in Bahrain and 96th in his F1 career (Photo: Daimler)
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