Lewis Hamilton has joked he will be “grey” by the end of the 2021 Formula 1 season but says he is “super excited” about the prospect of a year-long title battle with Max Verstappen.

An epic late duel for victory at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix between the Mercedes and Red Bull driver teased the prospect of classic F1 season and closer title race.

Hamilton resisted immense pressure from Verstappen in the closing stages on tyres that were 11 laps older than his rival to open his account for 2021 by a slender margin of just 0.745s, having overturned a qualifying deficit of almost 0.4s to record his 96th career victory.

“I'm super excited and super happy for the fans, that they are excited,” the 36-year-old Briton said of the prospect of his challenge against Verstappen. “I think it’s something that all the fans have wanted for a long time.

“Of course, this is only one race, so we don’t know what the future holds. With the pace they have, they could be ahead a lot more, but we’re going to work as hard as we can to try and stay close in this battle and I hope for many more of these sorts of races with Max and Valtteri.

“There’s a long way to go, 22 races. Holy crap! I’ll be grey by the end of this!”

After equalling Michael Schumacher’s tally of seven world championships last year, Hamilton is aiming for a record-breaking eighth world title in 2021.

Mercedes has a 100% record of success throughout the V6 hybrid era but Hamilton acknowledged that Red Bull’s early-season form could make this year the reigning world champion squad’s toughest test yet.

“Honestly, I don’t recall how close the other seasons were exactly but this has got to have started off as one of the toughest, if not the [toughest],” he added.

“I think Red Bull’s pace is incredibly strong, as you could see. We can’t match them in qualifying right now. That’s a big, big step for us but obviously I thought we could get closer within the race – but that was a little bit too close for my liking.”

 

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