REUTERS: Seven-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday after an epic, knife-edge thriller with Red Bull's Max Verstappen over the final laps.
Verstappen, who passed the Briton with four laps to go only to have to hand back the lead for exceeding track limits, finished a mere 0.745 seconds behind after starting on pole position.
Hamilton's team mate Valtteri Bottas was third, 37.383 seconds behind after a slow stop, but the Finn gained a bonus point after pitting for fresh tyres late on to secure the fastest lap.
"Wow, what a difficult race that was," said Hamilton, who started second on the grid and took another of Michael Schumacher's all-time records with his 5,112nd race lap led in a strategic cat-and-mouse thriller.
"Max was all over me right at the end, but I just about managed to hold him off. It was one of the hardest races I've had for a while," added the Briton, who had to negotiate the final laps on older and more worn tyres than his rival.
Towards the end, he simply told his race engineer to 'leave me to it."
The victory was a record-extending 96th for Hamilton, continuing also his run of winning in every season of his career since his debut with McLaren in 2007, but the first time he had won an opener since 2015.
"I had that one shot, went outside of the track and I then of course gave the position back and tried again but my tyres were not in the right state to put the pressure on," said Verstappen.
The Dutch youngster had hoped he might be able to continue and pull far enough clear to absorb the inevitable time penalty, but Red Bull were clear on what he had to do.
"Once you have that instruction you have to move out of the way. It is tough racing, it is fair racing," said team boss Christian Horner.
"I think the biggest winner today was the fans. It sets up a great season and I hope we see more battles between Max and Lewis this season."
Lando Norris finished fourth for McLaren while Verstappen's new Mexican team mate Sergio Perez went from starting in the pit lane, after his car had stopped on the formation lap, to fifth place.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was sixth and Australian Daniel Ricciardo seventh on his McLaren debut with Spaniard Carlos Sainz, the man he replaced, eighth in his first race for Ferrari.
Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda scored on his F1 debut in ninth for AlphaTauri and Lance Stroll took the last scoring place for Aston Martin in the marque's first race as a constructor since 1960.
Stroll's team mate Sebastian Vettel, the four-times world champion who has joined from Ferrari, had another of his nightmares.
The German collected a five-place grid drop for not respecting warning flags in qualifying and went to last on the starting grid.
He then collected a 10-second penalty in the race for causing a collision with Alpine's Esteban Ocon and two penalty points - taking his tally for the weekend to five with 12 in one year incurring a one-race ban.
Ocon's team mate Fernando Alonso, returning after a two-year absence at the age of 39, retired from the race after debris was trapped in a brake duct, causing it to overheat.
Mick Schumacher, F2 champion and rookie son of seven-times champion Michael, was lapped and the last finisher in 16th for Haas.
The debut of his Russian team mate Nikita Mazepin lasted only seconds before he spun off coming out of turn two, triggering the safety car.
The race was shortened by one lap due to Perez's problem forcing the field to go around once more. Mechanics had been working earlier on the Mexican's car in the garage to replace some power unit components.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)