Max Verstappen says it was only fair he let Lewis Hamilton back through when he did, having overtaken the Mercedes driver illegally in the season-opening Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen and Hamilton enjoyed a titanic battle for the win at the Bahrain International Circuit as the Mercedes driver ultimately came out on top.

The Dutchman chased down the seven-time champion and overtook him around the outside of Turn 4 with just four laps remaining, but was forced to give the place back after he completed the move outside of the track limits.

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Verstappen decided to let Hamilton back through on the run down to Turn 11 meaning the Red Bull driver had no chance to get back past immediately.

He vented his frustration over team radio after the race: "Why didn't you let me go? I could have easily got the five seconds. I prefer to lose like that than to be second like this."

Verstappen changed his opinion when speaking in the post-race drivers' press conference, he said: “If I would have let him by later then it’s an unfair way of giving the position back right because then you’re so close and it’s an easy DRS pass so I had to do it after Turn 10. It was super hard to follow, I got into Turn 13 and I had a big oversteer [moment] and from there onwards I just didn’t have the tyres anymore to attack.

“Of course, my tyres were 10 or 11 laps younger but with these cars, that advantage goes away very quickly once you get within 1.5s and like I said before, the wind and the direction it was - it wasn’t helping. With these cars, the last few years, it is very important to have track position and we gave that up today.”

Track limits dominated the post-race discussion because they were monitored at Turn 4 during practice and qualifying, but not in the race.

Hamilton was then told by Mercedes he wasn’t allowed to extend track limits at Turn 4 midway through the grand prix, contrary to what drivers were told prior to lights out.

“Well throughout the race I was told that people were going wide so they told me to do the same because you do gain lap time doing it, so I did,” Verstappen added.

“At one point, they told me not to do it anymore. In qualifying, it wasn’t allowed as your lap time got deleted so I don’t know how it got to the point where people were doing it without getting warnings but at the end of the day, when I was fighting Lewis, I went outside of the track limits, so I think quite quickly the race director was onto us to tell me to give the position back so that’s exactly what I did.”

Even though he benefited from the change in the track limit ruling, Hamilton admitted the situation was “very confusing”.

“I think it’s a difficult one, I think it is very confusing,” Hamilton said. “Most tracks we’re not allowed to put four wheels outside the white line but this weekend and that particular corner, we weren’t allowed to on Friday, in actual fact you could go two wheels outside the line but you can’t go past the blue and white kerb, but in the race you can and that was what had been written. 

“In the race, it’s quite a different corner when you have to do one or the other in terms of approach and it is faster when you can go out, but then what is the boundary when you’re overtaking and you’re not allowed to overtake off the track. 

“Halfway through the race they basically changed their minds and all of a sudden you’re not allowed to go outside that white line, which was fine for me, I think it was faster for me in the end, it helped me look after my tyres actually so I am grateful for the call and ultimately, it meant that Max wasn’t able to overtake off-track.”