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Hamilton storms to 96th F1 win after titanic battle with Verstappen

Hamilton storms to 96th F1 win after titanic battle with Verstappen

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Hamilton storms to 96th F1 win after titanic battle with Verstappen

Hamilton storms to 96th F1 win after titanic battle with Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton delivered the 96th grand prix victory of his Formula 1 career following a titanic battle with Max Verstappen.

Hamilton was hounded by Verstappen over the closing stages of an extraordinary Bahrain Grand Prix, with the Red Bull driver claiming the lead on lap 53 of the 56.

But in exceeding track limits at turn four to complete the move, he was ordered to give up the lead, and what would have been the win.

Despite continuing to pursue Hamilton, Verstappen was unable to make another attack hold, finishing 0.745s adrift.

It was the battle between two different teams and drivers that F1 has long craved given Mercedes' dominance over the past few years.

Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third, followed by a superb drive from McLaren's Lando Norris for fourth, with the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez fifth on his debut.

Shortly before the race, Perez's RB16 was forced to undergo a change of energy store and control electronics after the team failed to fire up the car.

Whatever issues were troubling Perez's RB16B, they manifested themselves again on the formation lap as the car ground to a halt on the run down to the final corner, with the information screen on his steering wheel dead.

As a second formation lap was called by race control, reducing the race distance from 57 to 56 laps, Perez eventually managed to get his car going and made his way to the end of the pitlane for his start after initially qualifying 11th.

After winning the Sakhir GP last year, and the first of his F1 career, from last at the end of lap one, Perez's recovery in this race was not quite as exceptional but good enough given he was last from the start before going on to claim his fifth place.

At the start, the field was soon reduced to 19 cars as Nikita Mazepin spun out at turn three - the scene of Romain Grosjean's fiery crash in last season's race at the end of November - and into a barrier, albeit on to the opposite side of the track compared to Grosjean's incident.

The departure of the Russian, who stepped from his car unharmed, naturally led to a safety car that was on track for three laps, offering Hamilton a second chance of an attack, but again Verstappen managed to cover.

Behind the leading duo, various battles raged, notably Bottas reclaiming third from Ferrari's Charles Leclerc after losing that place on the opening lap prior to the safety car being called.

Further back, AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, who had started fifth, lost his front wing in the melée, forcing him into a pit stop that relegated him to the back of the pack, leading to a virtual safety car.

Once the race unfolded, although Verstappen was comfortably holding Hamilton at bay, the gap was always just under two seconds, playing into the latter's hands come the first round of stops.

Of the leaders, Mercedes blinked first, pulling the trigger on a potential undercut by calling in Hamilton at the end of lap 13, switching him from medium tyres to new hards.

Rather than reacting immediately, Red Bull waited four laps before handing the Dutch driver a new set of medium Pirellis, albeit allowing Hamilton to take the lead.

That lasted for 12 laps as Hamilton pitted for another set of new hard tyres at the end of lap 29, and while the Briton suggested he "could have kept in there a little longer", race engineer Pete Bonnington made clear there was "the danger of the undercut" and the team "had to take the stop".

If Mercedes had hoped to use Bottas as potential cover for Hamilton in the fight with Verstappen, or even conjure a strategy to thrust him into contention, that disappeared when the Finn pitted after 30 laps.

Due to a problem with the removal of the front-right tyre, Bottas was stationary in his pit box for 10.9s, taking him out of the equation.

After Hamilton was warned by his team for consistently exceeding track limits at turn four, Verstappen made his second stop with 17 laps remaining, taking on hard tyres and with Red Bull turning him around in just 1.9s.

It left a gap for Verstappen to close down of around eight seconds and with tyres 10 laps fresher than those on Hamilton's car, which led to the former slowly reeling in his rival.

After a mistake from Hamilton into turn 10 on lap 51, it allowed Verstappen to draw Hamilton into DRS range, and eventually claiming the lead on lap 53 out of turn four, albeit by running off track to do so.

After being informed by the FIA to give up the place, Verstappen quickly allowed Hamilton to retake the lead that again allowed the gripping finale to continue through to a pulsating finish, and a gap at the flag of less than a second.

Behind Perez, Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were sixth and eighth, sandwiching McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo, with AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda claiming ninth on his debut, while Lance Stroll was 10th for Aston Martin.

On his return to F1, and his debut with Alpine, Fernando Alonso retired on lap 33 due to debris becoming lodged in a brake duct that caused it to overheat.

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