F1 2021: I love the challenge – Hamilton revels in winning 'one of the hardest races'

By Sports Desk March 28, 2021

Lewis Hamilton was thrilled to come out on top in a dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix, which he labelled as one of the toughest Formula One races he has been involved in for some time.

Max Verstappen started on pole in Bahrain, but despite the Red Bull having had the edge over Hamilton's Mercedes in practice and qualifying, it was the seven-time world champion who triumphed.

It did not come easy for Hamilton, who had to see out a late attack from Verstappen to secure his first season-opening success in six years.

The victory only came courtesy of an error from the Red Bull driver, who was adjudged to have gone beyond track limits during a potentially decisive overtake with four laps left to go, and was instructed to immediately give the place back.

If Sunday's evidence is anything to go by, Verstappen and Red Bull are well placed to make more of a challenge this season.

Speaking in his post-race interview, an exhilarated Hamilton said: "Wow! What a difficult race that was.

"Stopping early we knew would be difficult but we had to cover Max, they have had an amazing performance all weekend.

"We suffered the last stint. Max was all over me at the end and I was just about able to hold him off. That was one of the hardest races I've had for a while."

Asked if he was at the peak of his powers, 36-year-old Hamilton replied: "I definitely am. Each year they are talking about when you hit your peak and timing is everything.

"I think I am at that and Max is doing really well at the moment. I love the challenge."

Verstappen, meanwhile, looked to take the positives after crossing the line just 0.745 seconds after Hamilton.

"It's a shame but you also have to see the positive. We are really taking the fight to them, and I think that's great to start the year like that," Verstappen said.

"I don't know what happened with the car early on. It don't think it was completely solved in the low-speed corners, so we'll have a look at that. Overall, we managed to finish the race and score good points."

It was a sentiment echoed by Red Bull chief Christian Horner, with the team's principal believing they are finally ready to mount a serious title push this year.

"A great race, a tough one to lose. It is the first of 23 so hopefully, we give Lewis a harder time this year," Horner told Sky Sports.

"Once you have that instruction [to give the place back] you have to move out of the way. It is tough racing, it is fair racing.

"The races come thick and fast once we get going. Mercedes have been so strong over the years. I think the biggest winner today was the fans. It sets up a great season and I hope we see more battles between Max and Lewis this season."

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  • Verstappen would 'look good in silver', says Mercedes chief Verstappen would 'look good in silver', says Mercedes chief

    Mercedes chief Ola Kallenius believes Max Verstappen would "look good in silver" as he strongly hinted at the team's continued interest in the Red Bull driver.

    Lewis Hamilton is leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari at the end of the year, though the team are yet to announce who his replacement will be.

    Since Hamilton's announcement, Mercedes have talked up Verstappen, who has a contract with Red Bull until 2028.

    However, rumours have circled the Dutchman's future with the team after legendary designer Adrian Newey announced his departure at the end of the season, with Verstappen, who won the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend, stressing he wants to be in the "right environment" in the fastest car.

    Speaking to Sky Germany, Kallenius once again made his interest in drawing Verstappen over to Mercedes clear.

    "The best driver wants to have the best car. And that's our job, to bring the best package together," Kallenius said.

    "The cards will be reshuffled in 2026. New order with new rules. That's also an opportunity. Who knows?

    "But I think Max would look good in silver, wouldn't he?"

    Despite those comments, Toto Wolff previously confirmed there had been no official talks with Verstappen.

    It is rumoured that 17-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli could be in line to partner George Russell next season, while Verstappen remains an outside target.

  • Norris '99% happy' as McLaren continue Verstappen pursuit Norris '99% happy' as McLaren continue Verstappen pursuit

    Lando Norris described himself as "99% happy" with where McLaren are in their ongoing pursuit of Max Verstappen, but the Briton is desperate to start cutting into the world champion's lead.

    Verstappen finished two seconds clear of Norris to edge a keenly contested Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday, extending his championship advantage to 69 points.

    Norris is taking the fight to the Dutchman, having finished in the top two in five of the last six Formula One races.

    However, he was frustrated not to convert his pole position to a victory in Barcelona, having also fallen just short at the previous race in Canada.

    Norris rued a start to the race which saw him passed by Verstappen and Mercedes’ George Russell, who ultimately finished fourth behind the two championship contenders and team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

    "I should have done better," Norris said after the race, per BBC Sport. 

    "We should have got some points back on Max. Potentially there was a chance to beat him in Canada. Two races I have been second and he has won.

    "But Max needs to stop winning. He is still extending [his lead] at the minute but we cannot afford to let him run away with it. 

    "If I made some better decisions in Canada and had made a better start [in Spain], we would have won two races. We have what it takes; it’s just about putting it all together.

    "I am happy with 99% of things and it is just the 1% - which is a big part of it - wasn’t enough.

    "Two metres I lost out in the beginning and this was enough for Max to be on the inside. If George wasn’t on the outside I could have covered him, but George got a good start and got a perfect slipstream, nothing I can do about that.

    "As soon as you make one mistake, they are going to be ahead."

    Verstappen and Norris both said after the race that the McLaren is currently the fastest car on the track.

    But Norris, who did triumph at the Miami Grand Prix last month, lost crucial ground to Verstappen as he remained behind Russell in the early stages until his compatriot pitted.

    He added: "I got a bad start, simple as that, and then I just couldn’t get past George. The car was incredible and we were for sure the quickest, I just lost it at the beginning. 

    "Lots of positives, one negative and I know that. I can work on it for next time."

    Norris will be back on track soon, with the Austrian Grand Prix and British Grand Prix to follow swiftly as part of a run which sees three races take place in as many weeks, part of the longest season in F1 history.

    He added: "Austria and Silverstone – two of my favourite tracks. We are on a good roll. I just need to tidy up a few bits and then we will be on top."

    The result saw Norris move up to second in the drivers' standings, two points clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who had to settle for fifth place in Spain.

  • Verstappen lauds rapid start as key to Spanish Grand Prix success Verstappen lauds rapid start as key to Spanish Grand Prix success

    Max Verstappen pinpointed a rapid start as the key to his fourth Spanish Grand Prix triumph on Sunday.

    The Red Bull driver secured his seventh Formula One victory of the 2024 season in Barcelona, but needed to hold off charges from McLaren's Lando Norris and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

    Verstappen started the race behind pole-sitting Norris but soon fell down to third after George Russell surged to the front into the first corner.

    Yet the Dutchman seized control after bursting past Russell a few laps later, referencing his early pursuit as pivotal to his seventh triumph in 10 races this campaign.

    "I think what made the race was the beginning, I took the lead [at the start of Lap 3], and that's where I had my buffer then in that first stint where I could eke out that gap a little bit," Verstappen said.

    "I think after that, we had to drive quite a defensive race. Lando and McLaren, they were very, very quick today, especially on degradation, it seems always the last few laps of the stint, they were very, very fast.

    "But then I think we did everything well, we drove quite, I think, an aggressive strategy, but luckily it paid out until the end – it was quite close until the end but very happy to win here."

    Pressed on those opening moments, Verstappen added: "I had to do a bit of rallying on the straight, I had to go onto the grass a bit, which lost me a bit of momentum, so then of course we braked quite late into Turn 1.

    "Then, of course, I was quite determined to try and get the lead. Once I was in the lead, I could look after my tyres a bit better, and that definitely made my race today."

    This victory extended Verstappen's championship lead to 69 points, with Norris now his nearest challenger and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc dropping back down to third.

    Considering this race success, Verstappen lauded his tyre-management ability.

    "It's just managing the tyres, they get very hot around here with all the high-speed corners, so you're sliding around actually quite a lot," he added.

    "It was just managing the race throughout."

    Verstappen will now prepare for the Austrian Grand Prix next Sunday.

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