Lewis Hamilton: “It’s not the end for them – they’re going to come back with vengeance in the next race, so we’ve got to work hard. I hope the fans enjoyed it because I enjoyed it!”
By James Galloway and Matt Morlidge
Lewis Hamilton said the pressure the “fantastic” Max Verstappen put him under was “immense” in the Bahrain GP after emerging on top at the end of a titanic tussle with his Red Bull rival.
The world champion began his quest for an unprecedented eighth title with a stirring against-the-odds triumph over Verstappen in Bahrain, despite his Red Bull rival having qualified on pole and led the race’s first stint.
Combining an adventurous Mercedes strategy with expert tyre management, Hamilton withstood an onslaught from Verstappen in the closing stint to win by 0.7 seconds.
“The pressure was immense,” said a wide-eyed Hamilton to Sky Sports F1 after his 96th career win. “He’s a fantastic driver and they have the quicker car.
“So, to keep him behind on fresher tyres also, it was one of the hardest [races] that I’ve had for a while. But I’ve got a really bad memory so I’m sure there are other good ones too!”
Hamilton credited Mercedes for the work they had done to improve their new W12 car after a surprisingly difficult maiden test in Bahrain two weeks ago, when he spun off track twice.
“We came into this race knowing that we were on the back foot and it was going to be a tough start. But everyone worked incredibly hard to at least try and maximise what we have. Everyone just kept their heads down and I’m incredibly grateful to everybody.”
Although the race ended with a familiar winner, Red Bull have shown they finally appear ready to mount a sustained challenge to Mercedes’ F1 superiority all season.
“We have got such a great fight ahead,” predicted Hamilton.
“It’s not the end for them – they’re going to come back with vengeance in the next race, so we’ve got to work hard. I hope the fans enjoyed it because I enjoyed it. Onwards and upwards from here.”
How did Mercedes turn the tables on Red Bull?
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff echoed Hamilton’s comments about Red Bull’s pace as he admitted they had the “edge” in Bahrain – forcing Mercedes into a “bold” strategy to give their star driver a chance of the win.
“It was a great battle of strategies,” Wolff told Sky F1. “I think with the pace at the beginning Max had it pretty much under control. We took a bold move in pitting so early, gained a position with traffic.
“Then we thought we were doing the same again [for the second stop] in order to prevent against the undercut and we knew we were going to run out of tyres. At the end we just made it.”
Same, Boss. 😂 pic.twitter.com/6Vg3dfjhQk
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) March 28, 2021
On the Hamilton and Verstappen battle, Wolff added: “Max had to give back the position because we were told during the race that track limits were suddenly being imposed again and that won us the race.
“An amazing fight for the first race. At the end of the race I think it was just the good gods with us this time.
“I see these guys still a tiny edge in front of us.”