Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was admittedly somewhat pleased with the opportunity to demonstrate his winning skillset in a car not considered the best.

Hamilton has been driving F1’s best machinery since 2014, and much of the Brit’s success in the turbo hybrid era has been dismissed by his detractors as a result of this fact. However, with a car that appears to be only second-best, the Brit edged out Max Verstappen of Red Bull in the Bahrain GP.

Verstappen was considered the favorite by many, with his RB16B ostensibly the best throughout the grid. In the race, the Dutchman’s late-race pass on Hamilton was deemed illegal, and he had to hand the position back to the Brit, who’d never again lose his lead.

Hamilton says the race served as an opportunity to prove many of his critics wrong, but also argues that he’s had such chances in the past. “I think [the race] was definitely a blessing, perhaps in disguise,” he began. “I think there’s always a chance, opportunities to prove people wrong, and I like to think that today is definitely one of them.

“But I think there have been several in the past – there have been many in the past, obviously. I’ve been around a long time – but I hope there are many opportunities in the future to be able to show what I was able to do. Of course, we were fortunate with Max going wide in Turn 4 but that won’t happen again.

“I’m pretty sure so we’ve got to do better, we’ve got to be smarter and how we navigate through our weekends with the fact that we don’t have the fastest car at the moment but that’s all good for me, I don’t mind having to pull out extra in order to make the difference,” Hamilton said.

The tight, late-race battle between Hamilton and Verstappen led some to say that 2021 may feature a closely contested, gritty drivers’ championship fight for the ages. After round one, the Brit admits the first race was one of his toughest wins, but seems unsure that Mercedes are close enough to Red Bull for this to come to fruition.

“Honestly I don’t recall how close the other seasons were exactly but this has got to have started off as one of the toughest, if not the… I think Red Bull’s pace is incredibly strong, as you could see,’ said Hamilton. “We can’t match them in qualifying right now. That’s a big, big step for us but obviously I thought we could get closer within the race – but that was a little bit too close for my liking.

“The thing is, we just don’t know how much better they’ll be in other places that we go to – or how much worse, or how good… maybe our car’s better in other places than it is here, or maybe it’s worse, we’ll wait and find out. One thing’s for sure, we’ll work as hard as we can to improve it,” Hamilton said.

With many F1 fans rejoicing at the opportunity to watch a close title fight, the seven-time champion says he is excited for fans, but warns Mercedes and Red Bull may not be as close as they seem. The Brit points out, for example, that his rivals’ pace in Bahrain may not be representative of pace elsewhere.

“I’m super excited and super happy for the fans, that they are excited,” said Hamilton. “I think it’s something that all the fans have wanted for a long time. Of course, this is only one race, so we don’t know what the future holds. With the pace they have, they could be ahead a lot more, but we’re going to work as hard as we can to try and stay close in this battle and I hope for many more of these sorts of races with Max and Valtteri.

Here’s Mercedes explaining Bahrain strategy, pit stop error

Here’s FIA pinning Valtteri Bottas for first thorough check

Here’s Valtteri Bottas spending time at Pelicans

Here’s Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen how relaying Bahrain GP went