Hamilton 'loves the challenge' from Verstappen after 'difficult' Bahrain win

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Lewis Hamilton says he "loves the challenge" from Red Bull and Max Verstappen after winning Round 1 of the new Formula 1 season in Bahrain.

Despite starting as the underdog after the Dutchman had stormed to pole in qualifying, the seven-time world champion benefitted from Mercedes' brave strategy of pitting early to gain the lead.

His effort appeared to be in vain when Verstappen took the lead in the closing laps, but he soon regained first after the stewards ordered Max to give the position back for exceeding track limits.

From that point Hamilton then had just enough to keep the Red Bull at bay, crossing the line seven-tenths of a second ahead.

"Wow, what a difficult race that was," he declared in Parc Ferme.

“Definitely stopping early we knew was going to be difficult, but we had to cover Max, they’ve had amazing performance all weekend, so it was going to take something pretty special.

“We suffered that last stint and tried to find the balance between not pushing too much and having tyres left at the end of the race, it was difficult and Max was all over me right at the end.

“But I just, just about managed to hold him off, it was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while, so I’m really grateful for it.”

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With very little to choose between Mercedes and Red Bull then, it appears F1 could be set for 22 more races of similar drama this season.

And Hamilton is ready to go head-to-head to keep his crown.

“I definitely am, each year they’re talking about when you’ve hit your peak, and I think timing is everything,” he explained.

“I think I’m at that and Max is really doing well at the moment too, so it’s going to take everything and more for us to put in performances like this.

“But we love the challenge, I love the challenge, I still love what I do.

“This is a really good start for us. Through testing we thought we were going to be six to eight tenths behind, so the work that has gone on the last week has been spectacular.

“I’m just proud to see everyone so hyped for today.”