Lewis Hamilton began his quest to win a record-breaking eighth Formula 1 world title in perfect fashion after beating Max Verstappen to a thrilling victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion had trailed Verstappen by almost 0.4s in qualifying but was able to overturn the deficit into a 96th career win partly thanks to an ingenious strategy call from his Mercedes team.

Hamilton kept Verstappen honest throughout the first stint and was able to leapfrog the Dutchman in the first stint when Mercedes pulled off a successful undercut on Lap 13 by pitting Hamilton early and moving him on to a two-stopper.

The Briton led until Lap 28 when he pitted for a second time to take on another new set of Hards, before Red Bull responded by stopping Verstappen for a second time on Lap 39, pulling off a stunning sub-two-second pit stop.

From there, Verstappen was able to capitalise on his fresher tyres as he relentlessly hunted down Hamilton, who made what looked to be a critical error when he locked up and ran wide at Turn 10 with just four laps to go, allowing Verstappen to get within DRS range.

Verstappen thought he had made the race-winning move on the next lap when he brilliantly swept around the outside of the Mercedes driver at Turn 4, only to run wide off the track.

Facing the prospect of penalty, Verstappen was forced to give the position back to Hamilton on the run to Turn 11, with the reigning world champion remarkably holding on despite being on tyres that were 10 laps older than the Red Bull driver to take a sensational win by just 0.745s.

Behind the duelling leaders, Valtteri Bottas was a distant third to complete the podium after switching to a three-stop strategy when a slow second stop ruined his chances of a victory that never looked likely.

Lando Norris was a strong fourth for McLaren ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who remarkably recovered through the field having started from the pit lane after his car suffered a complete shut down on the formation lap.

Charles Leclerc capped off an encouraging start to the year for Ferrari as it looks to bounce back from its abysmal 2020 campaign to take sixth, heading new McLaren recruit Daniel Ricciardo and Scuderia teammate Carlos Sainz.

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda scored points on his F1 debut with an impressive drive to ninth, while Lance Stroll completed the points-paying positions in 10th place for Aston Martin.

Meanwhile, his teammate Sebastian Vettel endured a nightmare debut for Aston Martin, with the four-time world champion finishing a lowly 14th after receiving a 10-second time penalty for clumsily ramming into the back of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.