In a heart-wrenching final, Verstappen’s car seemed to have the speed to secure its 12th Grand Prix victory and in the finals the Dutchman briefly took the lead, only to return it to Hamilton after escaping the track.
“Amazing job guys,” Hamilton said, speaking on Mercedes Team Radio. “I’m very grateful. Everyone at the factory … works so hard. I know we weren’t quick enough but we managed to do it.”
Wishing to win a record-breaking eighth world title, Hamilton seems to have a real fight on his hands given the speed of Verstappen’s Red Bull car.
“Of course it’s a shame, but you also have to see the positive,” Verstappen told Sky Sports. “We’re fighting them (Mercedes) so it’s great to start the year like that.”
His Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, finished third, when he was 37 seconds behind.
“I’m disappointed with the way it turned out,” Bottas said. “Lewis and I had different strategies today – on my side things could have been better.”
It was Hamilton’s 96th Grand Prix victory and his first opening win of the season since 2015.
“Max was all over me at the end, but he just managed to hold him back, one of the toughest races I’ve had in a while,” said Hamilton.
The first lap had to be cut short a minute after Russian F1 debut Nikita Mazepin crashed his Haas car into the barriers at turn three.
During the Bahrain GP last season, Romain Grosjean’s car caught fire after crossing the barriers at the same turn in the first lap.
The Frenchman’s Haas car split in two under the force of hitting the race barriers and was engulfed in flames, before Grosjean miraculously escaped.
Verstappen had started on pole, but the Dutchman and Hamilton, each opposing the race twice, switched to the very end.
The second race of the F1 season is the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, Italy on April 16.
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