Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Hamilton denies Verstappen as Red Bull push Mercedes to the limit

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix review

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Fastest in pre-season testing.

Fastest in Friday practice.

Fastest in qualifying – by nearly four-tenths of a second.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull ticked every pre-season performance box. Surely there was always going to be one inevitable outcome when the chequered flag flew during the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix?

Yet, as the fireworks exploded in the night sky above to Bahrain International Circuit, a familiar cry of celebration erupted on the Mercedes pit wall:

“Get in there, Lewis!”

The opening round of the 72nd Formula 1 world championship was among the more gripping out-and-out races we have seen in recent years. With minimal testing, a raft of new and not-so-new names joining the grid and a world still held largely to ransom by a global pandemic, it would have been easy to expect Mercedes’ iron grip over the sport to hold firm into 2021.

Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Pictures: 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix
But while Lewis Hamilton may have claimed his 96th grand prix victory and Toto Wolff could once again raise his arms aloft in satisfaction of yet another accomplished mission for Brackley’s finest, Mercedes have rarely looked as vulnerable at the start of a season as they did under the lights in Bahrain.

Whatever anyone may claim, the opening race of a season is never just a case of ‘business as usual’. It’s a crucial moment of recalibration – not just for the 20 drivers and 10 teams, but also for the FIA personnel that oversee them.

Thursday’s regular race director’s event notes laid the groundwork for the final act in Hamilton’s defeat of Verstappen before a wheel had even turned. Instruction 21.1 outlined the sole track limits concern for the weekend ahead:

“The track limits at the exit of turn four will not be monitored with regard to setting a lap time, as the defining limits are the artificial grass and the gravel trap in that location,’ it stated, unambiguously. The issue became rather more ambiguous when a revised document appeared before second practice stating that the provision would only apply for the race itself, not practice or qualifying.

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“In all cases during the race, drivers are reminded of the provisions of Article 27.3 of the Sporting Regulations,” it added. In other words ‘do not even think of passing anyone on that same stretch of asphalt we are allowing you to otherwise abuse at your leisure’.

Start, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Verstappen kept his lead while Perez started in the pits
If Verstappen and Red Bull’s season-closing victory last time out in Abu Dhabi had been their warning shot to Mercedes for 2021, then their domination of the timing screens over three days of testing and the first two days of the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend was them throwing their gloves to the ice and circling their opponents menacingly, fists raised.

Verstappen’s undeniable raw pace had always threatened to one day challenge Mercedes’ hegemony, but now here they were, toe-to-toe on the grid, starting a new season on level terms, with Hamilton and his team knowing they would need to be the ones to throw the first punch.

As the cars rolled into position on the grid, Verstappen calmly clicked through his pre-start procedure but his new team mate, Sergio Perez, was frantically flicking switches on his steering wheel trying to bring life back to his screen and his Honda power unit, which had cut out through turn 12 on the formation lap. The original start was abandoned and the field sent around on a second controlled tour, at which point Perez somehow willed the RB16B back into life and recovered back into the pits, ensuring he would made his Red Bull debut after all.

When the five red lights finally extinguished to signal the start of F1’s longest ever season, Verstappen led away with the two black Mercedes of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in pursuit, and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari snapping at their heels. Behind, Pierre Gasly’s mirrors were briefly filled with orange as the new McLaren team mates of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo scrapped over sixth, before a plume of dust was suddenly kicked up as a car speared off at the back.

Mazepin’s first F1 race ended at turn two
Rookie Haas driver Nikita Mazepin had brought one of the most tumultuous grand prix debut weekends for many years to an end on the exit of turn three – his fifth off-track incident in five sessions. Mazepin was quick to take responsibility for his latest excursion, which was far less destructive than the last time a Haas had a first-lap crash at that end of the track.

“The tyres were cold, I got on the kerb, took too much throttle and spun,” he explained. “Totally my mistake. I’m very sorry to the team, because they deserve to do much better than that. I’m very angry with myself.”

Aston Martin’s brand new Safety Car for 2021 was immediately called into action before a single lap had been completed. Perez took the opportunity to pit for slightly fresher medium compound tyres as the gap to the field he otherwise would have had to make up was now conveniently wiped out.

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At the restart, Verstappen’s deliberate strategy of waiting until the last second to let the hammer down saw him successfully prevent Hamilton from getting a run into turn one as Leclerc – who had passed Bottas for third before the Safety Car – decided to remind Hamilton that Verstappen was not the only elite young talent eager for his crown as he swept to the outside.

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Gasly squandered a fine qualifying performance
Hamilton held off that challenge while, behind, the two McLarens ganged up on Gasly for fifth. Norris passed the AlphaTauri, but as Ricciardo and Gasly went side-by-side through turn six, the pair touched, sending Gasly’s front wing skidding along the ground. Carlos Sainz Jnr, in his first race for Ferrari, was a little too optimistic in his efforts to impress his new team and clattered into Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin at the apex of turn 10, but without significant damage to either cars.

After his team mate’s undignified early exit, reigning Formula 2 champion and rookie Mick Schumacher had his own spin on the exit of turn four. Unlike Mazepin, Schumacher kept his VF-21 out of the barriers and was able to recover, though a long and difficult first grand prix lay ahead of him.

The Virtual Safety Car was deployed to allow a clean-up of the debris littering the opening sectors of the lap. When racing finally resumed, Verstappen continued to lead from Hamilton, despite complaining about his car feeling “weird” under acceleration. It did not take long for Bottas to relieve Leclerc of third place thanks to DRS along the pit straight and now Verstappen was truly alone out front with two Mercedes chasing behind.

With Perez making his way through the rear of the field, Mercedes knew Red Bull were especially vulnerable to the undercut with the nature of the Sakhir circuit. So with the gap out front sitting steadily around 1.5 seconds, Mercedes took the call to bring Hamilton in at the end of lap 13 to switch to hard tyres.

“The out-lap will be critical,” came the message to Hamilton. And the world champion duly responded, wasting no time in getting up to speed and putting the onus on Red Bull to react immediately if they wanted to secure track position for their leading man.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Red Bull lost the initiative to Mercedes in the pits
They chose not to. With a lap and a half, Hamilton had already virtually covered the spread to Verstappen – guaranteeing that whenever the leader now pitted, he would relinquish the position to Mercedes. Verstappen eventually came in for mediums at the end of lap 17, resuming a full seven seconds behind the new leader and with the knowledge that he would have his work cut out to end up back ahead before the chequered flag.

Unlike last year, where Hamilton made a habit of disappearing out front once given a sniff of the lead, Verstappen used the superior grip offered by the mediums to begin to eat into Hamilton’s advantage bit by bit. This was in spite of the lack of rear grip that still appeared to be plaguing Verstappen in the many traction zones around the Sakhir circuit.

While a clash between the sport’s two most celebrated current talents was brewing, back in the pack, a battle between one of F1’s brightest young stars and its most celebrated veterans was being fought.

Yuki Tsunoda, on his grand prix debut for AlphaTauri, was making his way through the field after a disappointing qualifying session and cautious opening lap had seen him lower in the standings than his pace throughout the weekend had predicted. Ahead of him was none other than double world champion Fernando Alonso, making his return to the sport with Alpine after retiring two seasons prior.

Tsunoda had DRS along the pit straight but was still some way back when he decided to dive up the inside of Alonso into turn one and take 11th place with a bold move. Tsunoda later described how it was an “emotional moment” for him to pass the very same driver he, as an eight-year-old boy 13 years prior, watched win the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji. Sadly for Alonso, his solid comeback drive was halted shortly afterwards when a rear brake duct ingested a sandwich bag and overheated.

At the halfway point of the race, and with Verstappen now in reach of Hamilton, Mercedes decided track position was paramount and called Hamilton in for his second stop to cover off Red Bull from springing the same tactic they had used so successfully themselves earlier. Despite telling Bottas that they would ask him to go longer, Mercedes decided it was better to also bring the sister car in, but a slow stop frustrated their efforts and caused Bottas to fall completely out of touch with the top two.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Article: Track limits policy did not change during race despite Hamilton’s warning, says Masi
Despite race control’s earlier advice that track limits at turn four would not be monitored, Hamilton’s repeated use of the full extent of the circuit drew their attention anyway. Mercedes advised him they had been warned to stop being so brazen in how much they were straightening the troublesome turn, or risk being given a penalty.

Verstappen made his second stop for hard tyres 11 laps after Hamilton pitted. Now he and his Red Bull team had 17 laps to overturn a 7.6s deficit to Hamilton and make sure they not only left Bahrain with a win, but having made a clear statement of intent to Mercedes – we can beat you and we will beat you.

As Verstappen began to rapidly close on Hamilton, Esteban Ocon was closing even more rapidly on Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin in 12th place. The sole remaining Alpine used DRS to easily slide by Vettel before the braking zone of turn one, but Vettel completely misjudged his braking point, locked up and slammed into Ocon’s rear, sending them both around. Despite the force of the collision, both were able to continue.

It capped off a miserable first race weekend for Vettel at Aston Martin, who was awarded two penalty points on his licence for the collision to go with the three others he had received that morning for failing to respect yellow flags in qualifying.

But the real drama was about to unfold out front. Hamilton was keeping things smooth and steady at the wheel of his Mercedes as the chasing Red Bull grew just a little bit larger in his mirrors each lap. It had taken 10 laps for Verstappen to cut his advantage to within 1.5 seconds, but with the pressure now tangible, Hamilton locked up into turn 10 and ran wide, crucially putting Verstappen within DRS range of the lead and the win.

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
The fight for victory came to a head on lap 53
As the pair began their 53rd lap, Verstappen was tantalisingly close to the rear of the Mercedes and went to the outside into turn one to set himself up for a good exit and a run at the Mercedes heading to turn four.

Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi got the best view of anyone as he leapt of the way to be lapped and watched Verstappen sweep around the outside of Hamilton, out onto the asphalt on the exit and into the lead. Hamilton was on the radio before he even reached turn five.

“He’s overtaken on the outside of the track,” Hamilton reported to the team. The call from race director Michael Masi was instant.

“Okay, for the moment, let Lewis through. Let Lewis through,” Gianpiero Lambiase instructed Verstappen after race control suggested to Red Bull that their driver’s move had been less than legal.

Verstappen did not protest or hesitate, immediately pulling to the side of the track along the back straight and blending out of the throttle to allow Hamilton to retake the position. Verstappen had already passed him once. Could he do it again?

Knowing that he needed to continue to apply the pressure, Verstappen tried to stick as close to the rear wing of the Mercedes as possible, but a brief dirty air-induced oversteer moment in turn 13 cost him valuable momentum to take him out of DRS range with only two laps to go.

Despite the superior confidence in his car and fresher tyres than Hamilton, Verstappen could not find a way to get within half a second of the Mercedes to make a second run for the lead of the race. Instead, he could only watch on helplessly as Hamilton held on to take the chequered flag an deny him and Red Bull the win that had looked all weekend to be theirs for the taking.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Verstappen wanted to risk taking a penalty for Hamilton pass
“Why didn’t you just let me go, man?,” lamented Verstappen, wishing Red Bull had let him stay ahead and cop a penalty. “I could easily have pulled the five seconds. I’d prefer to lose a win like that than be second like this.”

Christian Horner was quick to assure him that they did not have a choice. “We had the instruction from race control unfortunately, Max,” Horner replied. “But that was a hell of a drive you put there.”

As much as Red Bull may have been kicking themselves for somehow letting this one get away from them, they had at least shown they could bloody the noses of Mercedes, even if they had not knocked them to the canvas this time around.

For Hamilton and Mercedes, who were celebrating a 75th win together, it was surely one of their most satisfying triumphs.

“Amazing job,” a jubilant Hamilton told the team over radio.

“I’m so grateful to everyone back at the factory. Everyone’s been working so hard and I know we’re not quick enough, but we managed to do it. And that’s teamwork.”

Bottas rounded out the podium for Mercedes after setting the fastest lap of the race with a very late switch to soft tyres thanks to a sizeable gap to fourth place. That position was taken up by Lando Norris, who had quietly toiled away in his McLaren to secure ‘best of the rest’ status and the best realistically possible result on the day.

Hamilton won the season-opener for the first time since 2015
After believing his race to be over before it even started, Perez had recovered well to finish in fifth. More important to the Mexican than the points was the ability to get a full race distance worth of experience under his belt in his new car for the 2021 season.

Leclerc demonstrated that Ferrari will be more of a force this season with he and new team mate Sainz in sixth and eighth, split by Ricciardo in his first race for McLaren.

Tsunoda punctuated an impressive debut grand prix with an outrageously late lunge on Stroll on the final lap to take two points for ninth place, later joking that he would not have been able to sleep that night if he had not made the move.

A season that had offered so much promise had certainly delivered during the opening round. Even if the usual suspects had ultimately prevailed at the end, Mercedes will return home knowing how easily they could have been made to taste defeat and how hard it is going to be to keep ahead of the two Red Bulls over the 22 scheduled rounds of the season still to come.

In a season when so many teams will have one eye firmly on 2022, the Bahrain Grand Prix has thankfully shown that the rest of us cannot afford to take our eyes off the action left to come in 2021.

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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117 comments on “Hamilton denies Verstappen as Red Bull push Mercedes to the limit”

  1. Instruction from Race Control can never be ignored. I bet if Verstappen tried to pull out a gap rather than returning the position to Hamilton, penalty would have been a lot severe, to even a possibility of disqualification. Better to lose 7 points than to lose all.

    1. I like the way that some seem to think that it’s now unfair that a car isn’t allowed to overtake off track!!

      1. I think it’s a bit strange that you’re allowed to drive off the track in almost every lap of the race but can’t overtake using the same piece of asphalt but ultimately, no, you can’t overtake off the track so he was right to give the spot back.

        1. Neil Debacquer
          29th March 2021, 16:10

          I agree
          I would argue that the run-off in T4 should be considered as part of the race track because you’re were allowed to use during the race. imo it just needs to be clarified and stay the same for the entire weekend to prevent further confusion.

          Reply moderated
  2. Pretty clear that this will be a massive missed opportunity for RB. They were the fastest here, and they won’t be the fastest everywhere. If they are serious with their championship aspirations, they need to be sharper. A change in mindset after seven years of chasing rather than leading. Verstappen can do it, can his team?

    1. They were the fastest here

      The numbers on Sunday don’t support that, @hahostolze.
      Verstappen couldn’t shake off Hamilton at the start (I know Hamilton found a quicker way around turn four), and he only closed the gap twice due to his fresher tyres.
      Verstappen couldn’t even open bigger a gap to Bottas after their first stops.
      All points at a slightly faster Mercedes on Sunday.

      And Mercedes could play around with the strategy as RBR only had one car up front.
      Otherwise Perez could’ve covered one car with Verstappen fighting the other.

      Still optimistic for a full season of fights for the win though.

      1. I agree. Mercs are on top once again. Given where they were in testing and the step made I worry it will be Mercs all the way again this season

        1. Anyway they are close enough for a good fight.
          Also RBR tends to be a bit better in mid season development.

          All in all still very positive about expecting an exciting season.
          @Mayrton

          1. Absolutely, RB closer than ever. Verstappen had a very strong weekend. Stronger opening than in the past by RB

      2. Verstappen couldn’t shake off Hamilton at the start

        Hard to say; Merc were planning to undercut, so might have been willing to use up the tyres to keep close.

        Could also be that VER was harder hit by the mystery diff issue early on (while heavier, or before sussing out how to drive round it)

      3. @coldfly nah, sorry to disagree with you but every detailed race report and every analysis shows the Red Bull was still faster. Merc had better tyre selection, had the ability to challenge RB on the strategy, and had Hamilton doing a phenomenal third stint. But it wasn’t down to the Merc being faster.

        1. check this one, you can see that the were the same with the average of the 2 Mercs ahead of the average of the 2 RBR (discounting when in traffic), @hahostolze.
          https://www.racefans.net/2021/03/29/2021-bahrain-grand-prix-interactive-data-lap-charts-times-and-tyres/
          The only reason that Verstappen was faster that the Mercs in the 3rd stint was the fresher tyres.
          Even Perez with fresher tyres could not beat the Mercs on lap times.

          1. @coldfly Verstappen was fastest in almost every session and if Hamilton wasn’t in his way he would have finished the race in the shortest time too.

            Perez had a faster lap than Hamilton. Besides Perez is horrible at setting a fast lap.

      4. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        29th March 2021, 16:29

        @coldfly Max was catching Lewis at around half a second a lap at the end. If Lewis wasn’t in the way Max’s total race distance time would have been shorter than it ended up being. As it was he got stuck behind Lewis and his lap time dropped by half a second or so. He finished 0.7 behind. His car was the fastest over the race distance. Analysis of various stints or tire comparisons are irrelevant. Over the whole race Max was faster than Lewis.

        As to why he didn’t win, Lewis has a vast amount more experience in intelligent driving which showed in the race. Max still has some learning to do. Like Turkey 2020 he chose the wrong place to overtake.

        1. His car was the fastest over the race distance.

          Glad to see that we agree, @davewillisporter.
          As I wrote somewhere else RBR had the faster strategy, whereas Mercedes had the smarter strategy ;)

          1. @coldfly
            “As I wrote somewhere else RBR had the faster strategy” you dont get a faster strategy if you are not fast enough…. RB was clearly fast, not just max, but look at perez…

            however you are right, mercedes had the smarter strategy in the form of “Sir Lewis Hamilton”… Why is it hard to comprehend and admit? Mercedes was not fast. Do you honestly believe if it was Bottas, he would keep max behind? let alone keep up with max? he dropped behind, and regardless of pit mishap, he never recovered the gap! in fact until max caught up with ham, bot gap was increasing, only when max, irresistible force meets the immovable object, lewis, he started to catch up by little… due to having fresher tyres, also ham running quite a bit longer…

          2. I’m impartial in this fight, and are merely stating the facts we all can check.

            I’m just (not so) surprised that (in this case) Mercedes fans are so upset when I point out that they still have an advantage in race pace.
            As a Barcelona fan I would be delighted if somebody would state that my team was better.

            PS check the middle stint to compare Bottas and Verstappen (you can even ignore that Verstappen was on softer tyres), or the first one after Bottas dropped Leclerc.
            During the last stint Verstappen had much fresher tyres.
            Bottas reeled Verstappen in before that stop, but that is also due to tyre age differences.

        2. Turkey 2020 wasn’t an overtake attempt as indicated by Verstappen himself. He already planned to do it further ahead. Anyway, the bottom-line for me is that these cars just aren’t good enough. And won’t be until they are able to closely follow each other while maintaining certain driveability characteristics.

    2. Totally agree – it really felt like a team that is used to staying calm and winning vs a team that is used to chasing. When Mercedes kept calm, Red Bull started to panic and it led to bad decisions being made.

      If Verstappen pitted the lap after Hamilton each time and came out just behind him, I think he had the car to win the race. Instead, they kept waiting and always gave Verstappen too much to do which mean that by the time he closed the gap, his tyres were done.

      After that mistake, the repeated it a 2nd time. Hamilton made his 2nd stop and Verstappen stayed out for too long and again had too much to do. If he just copied Hamilton and pitted at the same time, he’d have been just behind on equal tyres and I think he had the pace to beat him.

      1. If Verstappen pitted the lap after Hamilton each time and came out just behind him, I think he had the car to win the race.

        But then Bottas would have done the long stints, whilst Hamilton could annoy Verstappen.
        @petebaldwin

        But maybe that would’ve been a better outcome for the WDC ;)

    3. Not a big loss for Red Bull. For one, they know they are very competitive after yesterday. Max would have passed Hamilton if not for a minor error. I think this was a positive for Max as he knows he lost the race more than Hamilton won it.

      Reply moderated
    4. @hahostolze

      Agree. I think they’re fighting off some ‘win rust’. They made their first mistake by not putting Sergio on softs to ensure he got in to Q3. Sergio could have played an important factor in the race if started in the top 6. Personally, I wasn’t too sure about putting Max on Mediums for the second stint.. Maybe hards for the 2nd stint and a short stint on mediums would have been the best approach if they were attempting an end of the race showdown for the win.

      I always considered Red Bull the team to beat in terms of strategy.. but Mercedes definitely outwitted them this weekend. As you mentioned, I don’t think Red Bull can afford too many slip ups like this over the course of the season.

  3. I am no Verstappen or RBR fan, far from it but they were robbed yesterday. Hamilton i read somewhere breached track limits 29 times in turn 4! And if that isn’t lasting advantage i don’t know what is.

    1. @philby The revised event notes stated that going off track at T4 would be okay ‘in the race’ until a sudden change during the race.

      1. @Jere still a hollow victory and a reminder that when there is ambiguity the decision favours Hamilton. The stark contrast between Monaco 2016 and Canada 2019 stil stands. Also when Verstappen went off track was already in front of Hamilton. One could argue that what he did was no different to what Hamilton did 29 times!

        1. Let us know when the last time a car was allowed to overtake with all four wheels off the track

          1. Jonathan Parkin
            29th March 2021, 13:53

            Jacques Villeneuve at Hungary in 1997

        2. @philby The 2016 Monaco and 2019 Canada incidents aren’t fully comparable.

          1. @Jere, No 2 incidents are identical in order to be fully comparable. The common denominator is Hamilton benefiting on both occasions.

          2. @philby if you include spa 08, i think your equations will turn upside down…

        3. Correct me if I’m wrong but I remember Schumacher got the exact same treatment when he was in Ferrari. For me it was a clear overtake but he wasn’t on track. Still they both used that line to benefit themselves.

        4. You’ve lost me.

          But where in Canada 2019 did Hamilton have 4 wheels of the track when he attempted to overtake Shui who did have 4 wheels off the track, gave Hamilton no room and expected to get off with no penalty?

          Likewise, never mind the fact it’s virtually impossible to have 4 wheels off the track at Monaco(except at the swimming pool chicane, where it’s a slam dunk penalty if you overtake someone). You’re not referring to Hamilton daring to defend his position are you and arguing this is no more than what Vettel did in 2019?

          1. Bahrain has nothing to do with those 2 incidents. It is the pattern that leaves Hamilton the beneficiary. In Monaco leaves the track with all 4 wheels while defending then squeezes Ricciardo, no penalty. In 2019 Canada Vettel leaves the track with all 4 wheels while defending then squeezes Hamilton and …penalty. Tell me where I am wrong.

          2. You are wrong because all drivers have decisions go for and against them. The fact that Lewis is always fighting at the front makes his decisions more memorable to you (that and your obvious dislike of him). For your Canada 19 and Monaco 16, I raise you… Spa 08 & Russia 20 (off the top of my head)

          3. 2019 Vettel went off the circuit and the law says you have to come back in a safely manner. He came back on and squeeze Lewis to the wall and got a 5second penalty. Lewis in 2011 went off in Hungary came back and squeeze DiResta Lewis got a drive thru penalty.

          4. @philby Please!! At no point was Hamilton behind Ricardo and lost control in the same manner that Vettel did 3 years later in Monaco. And where on earth did he have 4 wheels off the track – was he in the Med or something!!

            Never understood, not matter who the driver is, why everyone thought that the Canada 19′ decision was so controversial. You can’t leave the track, blatantly impede another driver and carry on as if nothing had happened

      2. The revised event notes stated that going off track at T4 would be okay ‘in the race’ until a sudden change during the race.

        I thought it only said “would not be monitored”, @jerejj.
        It seems subtle, but an important difference.

        The general rules still apply I guess that the track limits are defined by the white line.

        1. @coldfly on the other hand, Leclerc has indicated the drivers were told during the briefings by race control that no penalty would be imposed for going off the track at Turn 4. It does seem to suggest that there probably is more ambiguity over what exactly the drivers were being told would be permitted than some here have suggested is the case.

          @philby according to Norris, the drivers were given an instruction during the pre-race briefings that if they overtook a driver at Turn 4 in the way that Verstappen did, they would not be allowed to keep the position.

          If that is the case, then it would explain why Max could be given the instruction to return the position so quickly – it would also mean that both the team and Max would have been aware that such a move would not be allowed to stand, and why Horner’s comments in the press aimed to present returning the position as an act of “sportsmanship”, tending to uphold, rather than criticise, the decision.

          Also, given that Verstappen stated in his post race comments that he also then started doing the same thing – would you then say that a Verstappen victory was also a “hollow victory” if he was, in the end, no better either? Your comments give the impression you want to see two wrongs make a right.

          1. Great post

            Note, that the Hamilton knockers haven’t replied. They’ll be back though. Probably citing incidents from his poor 2011 season – of which they plenty to chose from. Bless them!!

          2. @Anon I respect your view because you make a good argument. So let me rephrase my statement. What if the race summary title was “Hamilton wins in Bahrain after repeatedly abusing track limits.” You see I am only stating facts.

          3. Or alternate race summary title ‘Max lost the Bahrain grand prix despite repeatedly abusing track limits.’

          4. @ian dearing We have video proof Hamilton did so 29 times, get the footage from Verstappen and then your statement is also true.

          5. You mean the photographic proof on this thread and all over social media? Or maybe watch some race footage over again without your blinkers on.

        2. Leclerc has indicated the drivers were told during the briefings by race control that no penalty would be imposed for going off the track at Turn 4.

          @anon, I merely wanted to point out the inconsistency.
          Hamilton won, and it was deemed legal.

          I just hope they clean this up for the future, but I don’t expect this to happen as long as Masi is in charge.

    2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      29th March 2021, 16:36

      @philby Leclerc was asked about track limits at turn four after the race and said as far as he understood, the drivers were allowed to go outside the track. All the drivers were doing it. The better question to ask is why did Max think it wasn’t allowed and the rest of the drivers think it was? Race Control said they weren’t going to monitor it. If it’s not monitored then there is no penalty for using it. If there’s no penalty then drivers will push the limits as all of them do all of the time. All of them did except Max. Race control only did something after Redbull’s radio call to Max. Before then they weren’t looking.

      Max didn’t get robbed. He just didn’t maximise his advantage.

    3. get a grip–it was agreed in the pre-race notes they could run wide at turn 4

  4. If Lewis had beaten Max in a fair scrap, that’s a good thing…but I’m not sure the stewarding made that fight entirely fair.

    1. What would have been not a “fair scrap” is if F1 is suddenly allowing cars to overtake with four wheels off the track

      1. If you’re not allowed to overtake off-track then why are you allowed to drive off-track at all?

        1. A question that has been vexing me, as an F1 fan for nearly 40 years

          The argument is “lasting advantage”. It’s probably fair to allow occasional breaches and then warn the drivers with a threat of penalty is no “lasting advantage” is made

          Of course, if a driver is running wide all the time then the cumulative time gained is definitely a “lasting advantage”. Note, that Hamilton didn’t go wide all the time – he was just been glib

          However, “lasting advantage” means – overtaking in reality

          In fairness the stewards made it crystal clear to the drivers
          Massi on the subject;-

          “It was mentioned clearly in the drivers’ meeting and notes that it would not be monitored with regards to setting the lap time but would always be monitored in terms of the sporting regulations and that a lasting advantage could not be gained,” he said. “Nothing changed during the race.”

          He’s correct. It wasn’t until RB complained that they then warned Lewis that he was entering the realms of “lasting damage” and would face a penalty if he continued doing it. Max, could have done the same and probably did, but just not as much

          1. Note, that Hamilton didn’t go wide all the time

            Judging by this video (via reddit) and by his own admission on the radio he was doing it ‘all the time’ (or at half of the laps at least) and doing it on purpose.

          2. it’s the inconsistency that drives me mad…

            Why not just have a one-strike warning and a second strike penalty? The drivers are good enough to keep their cars on track (excl. NM).

            Instead we have the mess of yesterday where it seems that the stewards can’t make up their minds and that’s after Vettel’s penalty on Saturday when they admitted he couldn’t have seen the flags?! The stewards are making their own lives harder.

          3. @banbrorace That’s taking Masi’s word, after the fact, that his explanation was crystal clear that 27.3’s “lasting advantage” track limits clause would be enforced. But Hamilton and Leclerc both very clearly said they had been under the impression that track limits violations were not going to be enforced at all during the race.

            So it’s their word against Masi’s. Perhaps Masi is right and Hamilton and Leclerc misunderstood. But even so, the best you can say for Masi was that he did not clearly convey his interpretation of the rules.

            Hamilton absolutely gained a lasting advantage — Horner said it was two tenths, and if were being skeptical, let’s halve that. Over 29 laps, that’s a 2.9 second gap, which is several times larger than the winning gap. And who could blame him for doing so?

            Masi’s threat that 27.3’s “lasting advantage” clause will always be enforced was proven false — the stewards only did so when publicly prodded by another team. This is hardly a functional system.

        2. @markzastrow But all the drivers could do it and several did. RB clearly chose not to, as they saw tyre preservation, i.e. the minute less wearing going off the track would gain, as more important

          Verstappen went off the track to overtake, which is never allowed

          I get the track limits – but we can’t then make guesses about the race outcome based on those times gained. We could go back through every race in history and find similar situations

          It’s simply boring, similar to when Shui was around – just how much froth there is about nothing, when it’s Hamilton

          He’s just won a race he had no business been within 10s, in a car which apparently is miles behind the RB. It would be good to just concentrate on that

          1. @banbrorace

            But all the drivers could do it and several did.

            Precisely.

            Which exposes how empty Masi’s threat of enforcement was — that he and the stewards didn’t enforce it until Red Bull embarrassed them by urging Verstappen to do the same (and the world feed team broadcast it for the world, which, really was a very nice piece of work from them).

            It’s simply boring, similar to when Shui was around – just how much froth there is about nothing, when it’s Hamilton

            You seem to be under the impression that I’m “frothing” about Hamilton — but tell me, since you’ve tagged me specifically, where I have criticised Hamilton in our conversation? I’m strictly talking about race control’s actions, and not for the first time, I sense you feel that I have an anti-Hamilton bias. I sympathise, because lots of people do. But really, I am just fed up with F1’s approach to track limits.

            He’s just won a race he had no business been within 10s, in a car which apparently is miles behind the RB. It would be good to just concentrate on that

            I agree with your first sentence, 100 percent. But if you don’t want to read my comments complaining about track limits, well, you don’t have to. :)

  5. A driver is not allowed to leave the track and gaining “a lasting advantage“. Lewis spread the lasting advantage out over the entire race, Max took most of it all at once. The first thing apparently is allowed, the second isn’t.

    If someone at the FIA could define “a lasting advantage” that would save everyone a lot of discussions.

    Glad Max showed he learned how to retain the winner mentality and be mature in his responses at the same time. Onwards and upwards, hope they can take the fight to Mercedes to other tracks too.

    1. @Ruben, I am a diehard Ferrari and I know that the team I support has no bearing in the title fight. That being said after what I saw I am rooting for Vestappen this year. And no I haven’t forgotten the very many incidents that he caused and harmed Ferrari one way or another but I am willing to accept that he has matured. Hamilton on the other hand hasn’t that very moment things aren’t 100% percent on his side starts the blind accusations that all changes (engine modes last year, aero this year) are aimed to slow him down. He really says the same things he said all the way back to 2011, apparently 10 years of age and 6 world titles only account for less offensive wording on his occasional rants.

      1. What a surprise a Ferrari fan, denied the world title, no less than four times by the great Lewis Hamilton, doesn’t like him

        And consequently choses to cite the Hamilton quotes that suits them to make their daft arguments

        1. What a surprise, a Mercedes fan thinking Hamilton is the GOAT.

          1. Never once said he was the GOAT

          2. @banbrorace
            I’ve seen your other comments. You’re a crazy, foaming-at-the-mouth Hamilton fan, and your prejudices are so evident that it gets in the way of you making any reasonable argument. It’s pretty tiresome – we get it, you love Hamilton with all your heart, but your arguments as so biased on that account it really is embarrassing.

        2. Maybe you are bad at math because he didn’t even once let alone 4 times.

          1. Really? You think without Hamilton, the relevant team are winning those titles. In 17/18 it was simply Hamilton’s race craft in an inferior car, that eventually got under Vettel’s skin so by the time 2019 Vettel had gone as a challenge

            Or were people wrong when they said that the Ferrari was the better car at the start of each of these seasons?

            Who’s preventing Massa, if not Hamilton, in 2008?

          2. @2008 Was pure misfortune on Hungary and Singapore not Hamilton. In 2017 the inferior car had 15 poles in 20 races Bottas had 4, Bottas of all people! In 2018 the inferior car had 14 poles in 21 races, 2 from Bottas. You can also read Keith’s season review in 2017 and 2018 with graphs proving Merc had the fastest car.

      2. 2018 Ferrari had the best car according AMuS
        2017, Ferrari had equal best car according to AMuS

  6. @Broderick Harper, Dude get a grip on reality, 29 times isn’t occasional it is serial.

    1. It’s still not leaving the track to overtake

      And are you saying nobody else, left the track once? Seriously? Someone who clearly is an F1 expert, is now expressing surprise at the leniency of track limits when it comes to leaving the track in comparison to making an overtake move

      I get you’re upset by your 2008, 2017, 2018 and 2019 failures – when Hamilton driving that Ferrari would have won the titles, but at least take some comfort that the stewards in the 2008 season, tried their best to give the title to Massa

      I’d be upset as well, if I was an anti-Hamilton fan. He’s found his A game from race 1 as opposed to around race 9 at Silverstone. Worryingly for all the knockers – particularly if you’re a Ferrari fan and presumably Schui one

      1. It’s still not leaving the track to overtake

        It isn’t an overtake but it’s very also very important: if Lewis did it 29 times and gained 1 tenth each time (or used it to get better tire deg) by doing it, he earned 3 seconds in the whole race or a few laps of better tires. That is really a big and lasting advantage in such a tight race.

        1. So how much did the other drivers do it, and how much time did they gain? And how many abused T13? Because Max was. As he did T4.
          Although I suspect if someone does come up with all the figures Max will just be in the ‘acceptable’ range for many.

          1. That’s ignoring the point though isn’t it. If you leave the track 29 times at the same corner during a race, you are gaining an advantage by doing so. These are the best drivers in the world – they don’t go off the track on 50% of their laps by accident.

            If it’s OK to use part of the track regularly, it should be OK to pass there as well.

            This isn’t about whether Verstappen was OK to pass off the track or not – he wasn’t. It’s a question of “how can you let someone leave the track 29 times at a corner and then say a pass is illegal at that corner because it was made using the same piece of track.”

            I don’t blame Hamilton – he knew the FIA weren’t going to enforce the rules so he exploited it to his advantage. I blame the FIA for their consistently inconsistent enforcement of the rules.

          2. I think the point is before pointing your finger at one driver, lets see what the others were doing. Particularly as it seems most were doing it to some extent.
            And given the number of drivers who stated they were told by Masi that overtaking off track was not allowed at that point I think they all understood that clear instruction.
            And I dont see how it can be argued that whilst they were all instructed on the new T4 track limits, because one driver didnt go off at the point as much as others he is somehow allowed a free off track pass.

          3. @petebaldwin Charlie Whiting once explained (USA 2017 when Verstappen cut the corner to overtake Rakkonen) that taking a wider line was not seen as getting an advantage. Also then people were complaining drivers were going off track all over the place and why Verstappen got a penalty for blatantly cutting corner.

            But the stewards can tell the drivers during a race to stop going off track. They did in the case of Hamilton and turn 4. End of story really.

            Question could perhaps be why only Hamilton and only for turn 4, but that’s because Red Bull only ratted out Hamilton and only for that turn. Drivers were going off track stiaght through turn 3, wide upcoming on the straight. Turn 13. All over the track. Why is this now such an issue?

            I guess the takeway is that it seems to be when Verstappen commits a foul that it needs to be explained away. Norris also made the same mistake. Also gave the place back. No one batted an eye.

          4. So how much did the other drivers do it, and how much time did they gain?

            Mazepin did it only once; he didn’t gain any lasting advantage though.

            Need to check the onboards of the other drivers. But won’t do that, as that is not the point.
            As mentioned by @petebaldwin above ”I (also) blame the FIA for their consistently inconsistent enforcement of the rules.”

      2. 2008 Was pure misfortune on Hungary and Singapore. 2017-2019 was Mercedes dominance but don’t let reality unravel your fanboy narrative.

        Reply moderated
        1. 2008 Was pure misfortune on Hungary and Singapore. 2017-2019 was Mercedes dominance but don’t let reality unravel your Hamilton driven narrative.

      3. @Broderick Harper, The guy who lost to Roseberg and to Button over 3 years would win in a Ferrari? Keep your fantasies in check mate. It pains me that Ferrari can’t build a fast enough car to really challenge Mercedes but that’s about it.

        1. Please Kim. Your dislike of Hamilton is affecting your judgement. You’d argue the sun rose in the west rather than agree on something that several higher qualified people have stated

          And it’s certainly affecting your maths. It was over 5 years that he lost to Button and Rosberg

          1. I said he lost to Button over a period of 3 years not 3 years ago. Well english is a second language to me so please cut me some slack on the grammar front, I did 1 mistake 28 to go.

        2. Well to be fair Ham would have had a better chance of winning in a Ferrari than the guy who lost to the rookie Hamilton.

        3. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          29th March 2021, 15:28

          @philby Last time I checked, the competition of F1 was measured over a year! So, Lewis beat Button in 2010 and 2012. Button beat Lewis in 2011. Let do the maths. 1+1 =2 which is more than 1. If we have a 3 set game of tennis and I win 2 to one, that means I’ve won that battle.
          “Button scored more points over three years” is because Lewis had a very bad year in 2011. It still means Button only beat him once. Over three years as team mates Lewis beat Button 2 seasons to one. That’s how it’s measured.
          And just to dig the knife in, no-one’s going to win in a Ferrari for quite some time!

          1. @Dave, It is true we are not winning in the near future! You are not digging anything Ferrari incompetence is!

          2. Ferrari had the car to win in 2017 and 2018.

            This from ex-Ferrari boss Montezemolo about 2018

            This year Hamilton made the difference in his best season since his debut, this year with Ferrari he would have won. I say that not to belittle Vettel, who has every opportunity to rebuild with a competitive car.
            This Ferrari is a very different Ferrari to the one I left in October 2014, in terms of men and mentality. Ferrari did a good car this year, which in some situations was even better than Mercedes. But the final part was missing. Vettel made some decisive mistakes, but for the world championship you have to do everything to keep him up. He is a driver of the highest order and always close to the team.

          3. @philby Oh dear, Kim!! I’m sure you’ll have some theory as to why Montezemolo is saying this

            I’ll get the popcorn and beer out

        4. Lewis beat both Button and Rosberg 5 out of 7 Seven seasons 😂😂😂 the 2008, 2017 & 2018 Ferrari was the fastest car and he still won

          Reply moderated
    2. Sorry Kim

      I assume you’ve read the post below about everyone else doing it?

      And chosen to ignore it!!

      Comedy gold!! Usually the Hamilton dislike starts when looks like he’s going to win the title. It’s a great compliment to him that it’s started now

      1. CharacterMan
        30th March 2021, 9:19

        People dislike Hamilton, in my experience, from what he says in interviews etc, he seems to be, as a term ‘full of rubbish’.
        It depends on what type of person you prefer, or admire, some people might prefer someone like Kimi, who is straight to the point. That is their own personal preference.
        To some extent I would say that it’s not about his success as you argue, more about Hamilton’s character. (And not to mention his extremely high-pitched voice, hah)

        Reply moderated
  7. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    29th March 2021, 13:55

    The strategy game would have been different had Sergio been in the fight but it is what it is now. I think Red Bull have a faster car on Saturday but the Mercedes looks pretty even on Sunday. This season has the potential for a historic scrap between the old champ and the kid who is as good as any driver has been in this sport.

    1. @canadianjosh Verstappen thought he could pull a 5 second gap on Hamilton. Apart from clearly being faster on Sunday already anyway.

  8. Useful thread and some great analysis by Sam Collins here:
    https://twitter.com/NorthHertsSam/status/1376501219087286274

    All the drivers were running wide at T4 throughout the race, all 4 wheels over the white line as clearly visible in the screenshots. No-one’s bothered to put together a video like that one of Hamilton, which will now tediously loop us all into a coma, and it does look like he was even further over than other drivers (until RB told Verstappen to do the same and then they were both told not to) but I do think the idea that track limit rules were ignored for one driver and not the others is incorrect.

    The race director has reacted to cries of “let them race” for when rules have been too keenly imposed, and grey areas have emerged in terms of how far over the track limits is too far. In any event, passing a car off track has long been unacceptable, Verstappen impressed me with the way he handled it and his post-race interviews (that I’ve seen), feels like we’re in for a great season!

    1. Good inside, thanks! Though, from that Twitter thread, is still very much debatable:

      Hamilton correctly pushed the rules, Red Bull did not.

      I see how one got away with it and the other didn’t, but there shouldn’t be a case ‘correctly pushing the rules’ because it’s hard if not impossible to measure (gravel, grass and walls are effective ways to put an end to that).

      1. It’s quite simply. RB thought they didn’t need to and remember going off track will increase tyre wear

        I don’t think we can call Hamilton out by playing within the rules – even if it’s arguably marginal

        1. It’s as much playing within the rules as Michael Schumacher used to do and he went on to win 7 world titles with it, so it definitely pays off. And I do agree that Red Bull and Verstappen should’ve been more savvy if they really want to beat Merc and Lewis. Having said that: track limit-rules should be more clear.

      2. The third photo on that Twitter shows Verstappen taking the same wide line through turn 4. So he “got away” with it. Plus the straight-lining of turn 3 and going onto the straight.

        1. Of course you know that the gains aren’t being made in the tweet marked /3, but in the ones marked /5 and /6, about Lewis and Max. Tweet /6 reads:

          Red Bull later noticed this and radioed Verstappen to tell him he could do the same, Verstappen asked how it was legal, but started to do it too.

          That radio call came around the 25th lap. At that time Lewis had at least 20 laps under his belt in which he could have an advantage of about .2 sec a lap. That sounds like a lasting advantage to me.

          Don’t get me wrong: we can’t blame Lewis for taking that liberty, race control should be more consistent. In a sport where teams spend millions to gain milliseconds we can’t be ambiguous about where a track ends.

    2. I think the take-away is that the stewards didn’t care about it until:

      1) RB told VER publicly that Hamilton has been repeatedly taking advantage of it
      2) It ultimately decided the race

      Again, I’ve got no real problem with it provided there’s consistency. Changing the rules half-way through a race is a joke.

      1. It didn’t decide the race as RB decided not to do what virtually every other driver was doing

        They were simply outfoxed by Mercedes and Hamilton

    3. “Nothing changed at all,” said Masi. “We had two people that were looking in that area at every car, every lap and pretty much every car bar one was doing the right thing within what we expected in a general sequence. There was the occasional car that had a bit of a moment and went out there or whatever it was but it wasn’t a constant thing.”

  9. The whataboutisms seem to gush forth like a raging river with every Hamilton win. If only you could trade them like bitcoin.

    1. The villain of this piece was Masi, inconsistent and unclear directions leaving both leading drivers not knowing what was what. Clear and unambiguos directions are needed, that don’t change half way through the race. Am I right or am I right??

  10. Dave (@davewillisporter)
    29th March 2021, 15:35

    Despite some on here saying the Merc was the equal faster car, the fact was Lewis won in a slower car, through skill and experience, holding just enough tire life to get to the end while maintaining maximum possible pace. Max caught him with 5 or so laps to go and then got stuck. If Lewis was not in the way, Max’s race time would have been shorter. That’s how you know the Redbull was the fastest car. Not much analysis needed.
    So. Put to bed the myth that Lewis only wins in the fastest car. He didn’t always have the fastest car in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He won each season. He didn’t have the fastst car at Bahrain 2021 and he won.
    Bye Bye Myth Busted!

    1. @Dave, that proves nothing. You say that had Verstappen overtook his race time would be shorter, equally Hamilton could have pushed more, we know that because if his tyres were done he couldn’t defend. He simply chose to preserve his tyres and by having a car faster down the straights gambled on the value of track position. Also even if Verstappen did overtake his race time would be 2-3 secs shorter than Hamilton which equates to less than a tenth per lap, hardly a substantiable advantage and nothing to the advantage he enjoyed in qualifying.

      1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        29th March 2021, 16:44

        @philby except it proves exactly what I stated. Lewis’s rear tires were going off as Max caught him. He had jut said he couldn’t go any faster. Stop arguing black is white. Max caught him with 6 laps to go. He was driving half a second a lap faster 6 laps from the end. His lap time dropped to Lewis’s for the next 6 laps. Lewis didn’t go any faster. That was his real pace. The Redbull was the faster car. Period.

    2. Technically Ferrari had the fastest car in 2019– an illegal 65hp advantage and the fastest straight line speed

      According to AMuS Ferrari had the best car in 2018

      1. @amam Exactly and Hamilton beat Ferrari in those seasons too. Faster car or not.

        Especially races like Mexico 2019 and Turkey 2020 where he was driving the third fastest car show how much he can deliver above what the car speed does. It’s not just driving “fast” that matters. Track position and maximizing the tyres are also important parameters. Simply making it to the finish without driving into walls or other cars is another.

  11. It’s funny how Verstappen’s fans are desperately trying to push the narrative that Mercedes were the fastest car on Sunday despite the fact that Max were lapping over half a second faster than Lewis. Just stop making excuses for Max. He’s a great driver, one of the best of his generation, but he’s far from being the best on the grid like you are always saying.

    1. I’m shocked to discover that all those who were claiming they just wanted close racing really just wanted Hamilton losing.

      1. What we got was and anticlimatic ending

        1. Clicked report by error sorry. Anti-climax because your guy lost ?

      2. LOL!! Always happens to the greats. Until they start failing and show their flaws

  12. lexusreliabilty?
    29th March 2021, 23:14

    I just find all this talk by Verstappen/Red Bull fans of track limits to be noise and a moot point. Red Bull had such an advantage here that they should have walked it. Verstappen could have been more crisp with his wheel to wheel racecraft and perhaps plan his attack better- he didn’t. Red Bull could have been more awake with strategy- they weren’t. With a 4 tenths advantage in race qualifying trim and Verstappen catching Hamilton by a similar rate of notes in the race- this really should have been a repeat of Abu Dhabi 2020. It wasn’t, both Max and Red Bull failed to maximise and Lewis/Merc took full advantage.

  13. Max had it right. He should have kept his position, get 5 to 10 second advantage on Hamilton in the last 5-6 laps. Max penalty would have been 5 seconds. Easy win by the Dutchman. Redbull made a mistake here.

    1. In the last 5-6 laps? Were they going to add extra laps onto the race? You think Max could get a 10s advantage in 3 laps on worn tyres when he had taken over 10 laps to get close to Ham.

  14. Red Bull didn’t “

    push Mercedes to the limit

    “, Merc stole a slightly fortunate victory from the superior RB16B package.

  15. Same old, same old. Nice race but boring result.

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