Tough opening for George Russell but Bahrain proves Lewis Hamilton is still the one to beat
- Credit: MARK SUTTON/FIA POOL/PA
There were conflicting emotions for the three British drivers at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
For Wisbech star George Russell, the opening race of the 2021 F1 calendar was a case of back to reality.
After his superb stand-in performance for Lewis Hamilton at the back-end of last season at the same track, this was a fairly anonymous outing in a Williams that was severely lacking any sort of spark.
He did bring it home safely but was the 14th finisher of the 16 who saw the chequered flag.
Lando Norris though had an excellent day, delivering one of the most impressive performances of his career to finish fourth in his McLaren.
But both young pups were given yet another lesson by Hamilton who had no right to claim the victory for Mercedes but did so anyway.
The Stevenage racer is bidding for an unprecedented eighth world championship and he got that challenge off to the perfect start by beating Max Verstappen to the line by just 0.7 seconds.
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It was a sublime drive as he coaxed his Mercedes, a far slower machine than the Dutchman's Red Bull and on tyres that were 11-laps older, to the finish.
It was a defensive masterpiece to keep his rival at bay, Verstappen having four laps to get round his rival but finding Hamilton inch-perfect.
The 36-year world champion declared "still got it" when he crossed the line with race engineer, Pete Bonnington replying "yep, not bad for an old man".
But Mercedes chief Toto Wolff warned that despite the brilliance of Hamilton, Red Bull are still the fastest on the grid.
He said: "If somebody told me before Sunday that a Mercedes win was going to be the result I would not have believed them.
"We recovered well from the pre-season test but if we are 100 per cent honest with ourselves, we are lacking quite a bit of pace in qualifying.
"In the past, Bahrain has not been a strong race for Red Bull and they have not been particularly good out of the blocks either, but this weekend shows that is no longer the case.
"I have no doubt they are extremely difficult to beat and are leading the pack."
The next round is at Imola on April 18.