Lewis Hamilton’s duel with Max Verstappen at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix was hailed as the perfect advert for Formula One by the sport’s new boss Stefano Domenicali.
With three of the 56 laps left, Verstappen appeared to have executed a race-winning move by driving around the outside of Hamilton’s black Mercedes at the right-handed fourth bend of the Sakhir International Circuit.
But the move was illegal and the stewards told Red Bull to instruct their star driver to give the place back.
Verstappen obeyed with Hamilton keeping the Dutchman at arm’s length for the remaining laps.
He crossed the line just 0.7 seconds clear of Verstappen to win the 96th race of his career as he pursues an unprecedented eighth world title.
Domenicali said: “It was brilliant. Just what Formula One needs. Two fantastic drivers fighting it out at the front, and teams closing up behind through the field. It was the perfect advert for F1 and the season.”
Hamilton had no right to win Sunday’s race. Following the second round of pit stops, Verstappen exited the pit lane 8.5 seconds behind Hamilton with 16 laps remaining.
Hamilton was already 11 laps into his third and final stint – Mercedes aggressively stopping him earlier in a bid to undercut the speedier Red Bull machine – which should have left him as a sitting duck on old tyres.
But the Englishman’s brilliance came to the fore, making a mockery of those who claim his seven titles and record number of wins and poles have come by virtue of being in the speediest machine.
“Today was definitely a blessing in disguise,” said Hamilton. “There are always chances to prove people wrong and today is definitely one of them, but there have been many in the past, too.
“I have been here a long time. We don’t have the fastest car this year, but that is all good for me. I don’t mind having to pull out extra in order to make the difference.
“I hope for many more of these races with Max. This is something the fans have wanted for a long time.
“It is only race one, and we don’t know what the future holds. With the pace Red Bull have they could be ahead a lot more, but we are going to work as hard as we can to stay close.
“It is a long way to go with 22 races left this year. Holy crap, I will be grey by the end of it.”