Lewis Hamilton says the final few laps of his epic late duel against Max Verstappen at Formula 1’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix were “horrifying”.

An ingenious strategy from his Mercedes team and strong pace in the opening stint of the race enabled Hamilton to undercut Verstappen after the first pit stops, but the seven-time world champion made his second stop 10 laps before the Dutchman visited the pits for the second and final time, setting up a grand-stand fight to the finish.

On fresher rubber, Verstappen relentlessly pursued Hamilton and briefly got ahead of the Briton around the outside at Turn 4, before he was forced to relinquish the lead coming out of Turn 10 due to making an illegal overtake.

Hamilton resisted immense pressure from the Red Bull driver who shadowed him within a second for the last laps and was just able to hold on by 0.7s to claim his 96th win in F1 in what proved to be one of the most hard-fought wins of his career.

Asked how the final few laps felt from inside the cockpit, Hamilton jokingly replied: “It was horrifying!

"It wasn’t great. I was struggling obviously at the end with the rear end of my car, my rear tyres had gone off and I think they were maybe eight laps older, maybe more, to Max’s tyres.

“I knew he was going to catch me with 10 laps to go and I was thinking ‘it’s going to be pretty much impossible to hold him behind’, which in fact it was, up until the Turn 4 incident.

“I couldn’t believe I was just able to just keep him behind. I managed to keep him in my wake, and then it was difficult for him in certain places to get close.

“And he ended up wide in some places, which just gave me an edge.”

Hamilton admitted he was unsure if he could hold onto the lead until the very last lap of the race as he battled to he keep his car on track on worn hard tyres.

“Bono just kept telling me how many laps were left! He was like 'three laps, two laps' and I'm like 'Bono, I can count! I've got it,” he explained. "He's just nervous, but I'm grateful for Bono and his patience with me. 

“I think it was the last lap [when] there was a point, I think once I got out of Turn 3 I knew I was in a good position.

“But then [there was] oversteer out of Turn 10, nervousness out of 11, snap oversteer in 13, which is a really bad one and I was thinking ‘that’s it, he’s really got me now’. But I think he had the same thing.”

But Hamilton took great pleasure from the weekend-long battle against Verstappen and was left delighted that Mercedes was able to come away with the win despite not having the fastest car in Bahrain.

“Every minute of the weekend I’ve loved,” he said. “And [more so] knowing, I think for us as a team, we knew we were behind in performance. These guys [Red Bull] have done a better job so far.

"And so, for us to come away with this result given the fact that we weren't the fastest this weekend is a real result."

 

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