Lewis Hamilton holds off Max Verstappen to capture F1 season opener in Bahrain

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain
Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

SAKHIR, Bahrain — Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton just held off Max Verstappen to win the Bahrain Grand Prix season opener and clinch his 96th career victory Sunday.

The race was effectively decided when Verstappen overtook Hamilton with four laps remaining but went too wide on a turn.

Verstappen was instructed by his team to give Hamilton the position back, as he risked a time penalty from the race stewards, who had been enforcing track limits during the race at the exit of Turn 4 where Verstappen made the pass.

Verstappen still had a few more opportunities to catch Hamilton, and he almost did, finishing just 0.74 seconds behind the Mercedes driver.

“What a difficult race that was. Max was all over me at the end and I was just about able to hold him off,” Hamilton said. “I knew he was going to catch me and I thought it was going to be impossible to keep him behind … That was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while. I love the challenge.”

Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, took third but finished 37.383 seconds behind because of a late pit stop for new tires that allowed his Mercedes to set the fastest lap of the race.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was fourth, followed by Sergio Perez in his Red Bull debut. Perez started from the pit lane because of prerace mechanical problems, but Verstappen’s teammate was voted the Driver of the Day after overcoming adversity.

Verstappen took a superb pole position Saturday, the fourth of his career, and started immediately ahead of Hamilton, who used an early pit stop to seize the lead.

The race then turned into a strategy battle with Hamilton maintaining a 9-second advantage after Verstappen made his last pit stop with about 15 laps remaining. Despite tires with about 10 more laps of wear, the Mercedes driver managed to set a quick enough pace that prevented Verstappen from retaking the lead.

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

The rest of the top 10 were: Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo (in his McLaren debut), Carlos Sainz Jr., Alpha Tauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda and Lance Stroll.

It was a miserable race for Stroll’s teammate, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. After sustaining a five-spot grid penalty, Vettel was penalized for spinning Esteban Ocon and finished 15th.

In his return to F1 after a two-year absence, Fernando Alonso failed to finish because of suspension trouble in his comeback with Alpine.

SuperMotocross set to introduce Leader Lights beginning with the World Championship finals


In a continuing effort to help fans keep track of the on track action, SuperMotocross is in the process of developing and implementing leader lights for the unified series.

Currently Supercross (SMX) utilizes stanchions in the infield that are triggered manually by a race official. At least two stanchions are used in each race as a way to draw the eye to the leader, which is especially useful in the tight confines of the stadium series when lapping often begins before the halfway mark in the 22-bike field. This system has been in place for the past two decades.

Later this year, a fully automated system will move to the bike itself to replace the old system. At that point, fans will be able to identify the leader regardless of where he is on track.

The leader lights were tested in the second Anaheim round this year. An example can be seen at the 1:45 mark in the video above on the No. 69 bike.

“What we don’t want to do is move too fast, where it’s confusing to people,” said Mike Muye, senior director of operations for Supercross and SMX in a press release. “We’ve really just focused on the leader at this point with the thought that maybe down the road we’ll introduce others.”

Scheduled to debut with the first SuperMotocross World Championship race at zMax Dragway, located just outside the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 3D carbon fiber-printed LED light will be affixed to each motorcycle. Ten timing loops positioned around the track will trigger the lights of the leader, which will turn green.

SMX’s partner LiveTime Scoring helped develop and implement the system that has been tested in some form or fashion since 2019.

When the leader lights are successfully deployed, SuperMotocross will explore expanding the system to identify the second- and third-place riders. Depending on need and fan acceptance, more positions could be added.

SuperMotocross is exploring future enhancements, including allowing for live fan interaction with the lights and ways to use the lighting system during the race’s opening ceremony.