Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton found it far tougher on the opening race-day this season than he has for a significant period of time.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen showed tremendous speed and courage throughout to race and pushed Hamilton as far as he could. Eventually, it was the experience of Hamilton coupled with the strategising by Mercedes that helped him triumph.
It would have sent a major warning sign to Mercedes. The Silver Arrows have barely had to struggle in recent years, comfortably topping the constructors’ standings season after season.
Red Bull has shown tremendous improvement this year, and with Honda keen to leave the sport with a blast, it may result in a number of high-octane clashes throughout the season.
Former F1 driver Mika Hakkinen believes this could be one of the most intense battles in recent times. He said it augurs well for the sport as it has not witnessed any real clashes at the top for a while now.
Speedweek reported that the Hamilton-Verstappen battle could be as big as the Alain Prost-Ayrton Senna duel.
“Lewis Hamilton’s victory showed us how fiercely competitive this season will be. Formula 1 fans have dreamed of this for years,” Hakkinen said.
“It was like that with Michael Schumacher.
“Everyone knows the great duels between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
“When the drivers and teams are so close in terms of performance, the races will be really exciting and unforgettable.”
A change in aero regulations this year has resulted in a far more competitive grid, especially at the top. Mercedes can no longer just rely on its pace and look to bulldoze past its competition.
Hakkinen believes the key for Mercedes is now to focus on its strategising.
“Mercedes now has to find an answer to the challenge from Red Bull Racing,” he said.
“Unless you have the fastest car, it is important that you focus on strategy so that you can corner your opponents.
“Mercedes did that on race Sunday. They did the undercut with Lewis at the first pit stop.”
Hamilton found help from the Mercedes garage in Bahrain and he will be hoping he can find more assistance from them over the course of the season.