Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team bosses admit they were lucky to come away with a race victory in a controversial season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mercedes star Hamilton won the first F1 race of the season after an epic, knife-edge battle with Red Bull's Max Verstappen over the final laps.
'LET ME GO': Max Verstappen rages over Lewis Hamilton moment
'FINAL INSULT': Red Bull 'still really annoyed' at Dan Ricciardo
NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Lewis Hamilton's big retirement statement
Verstappen passed Hamilton with four laps to go but controversially had to hand back the lead after going off the track at Turn Four.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff admitted that "track limits won the race for us" after Verstappen's indiscretion saw the race director order him to hand back first place immediately.
Despite having greater speed than Hamilton over the final laps, Verstappen was unable to find a way past the Brit and had to settle for second place.
Making the controversial incident harder for Verstappen to stomach was the fact Hamilton had been employing the same racing strategy of crossing the white lines at Turn Four, throughout the race.
Footage emerged on social media that showed Hamilton taking all four wheels off the track at Turn Four as many as 29 times, before his team notified him that the tactic would result in a penalty if he kept it up.
Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc insisted after the race that drivers were told they could cross the lines without punishment at Turn Four.
However, Wolff said it emerged "suddenly during the race that track limits were imposed" and drivers would be pinged if they breached the rules.
Unfortunately for Verstappen, officials said if he gained a place advantage by breaking those rules then he had to hand it back, hence why he was forced to cede the lead to Hamilton in the dying stages.
Officials were slammed for the chopping and changing of the rules at Turn Four, with many experts and viewers claiming Verstappen was "robbed" of a race victory.
F1 journalist Matt Beer said the controversial finish was a "miserable way for such an absorbing season-opener to be resolved".
“Hamilton drove brilliantly, but Verstappen was robbed,” Beer wrote for The Race.
"If this season stays as close as we all hope it will, that might even prove to be a title-deciding call, and that would be a travesty."
Mercedes prevail in 'great fight'
Hamilton admitted that if it wasn't for the rule, then he wouldn't have won the race.
"If he (Verstappen) hadn't made a mistake he would have won the race," Hamilton said about Verstappen afterwards.
"I had to really keep my head and mind set in the car and to make no mistakes."
"What a difficult race that was," added Hamilton. "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 have had in a while."
"It was such a great fight, but this is not the end for them. They will hit back with a vengeance in the next race."
Wolff said Red Bull looked strong and suggested his team had a little bit of catching up to do.
"For the first race, I think these guys are a tiny bit ahead of us.
"It was a great battle of strategies," Wolff said.
"We took a very bold move pitting so early with Lewis and we gained a position, but then we thought we are doing the same again to prevent the under-cut."
Hamilton also praised Mercedes for the team strategy that ultimately got them home.
"Stopping early, we knew was going to be difficult, but we had to cover Max. They've had an amazing performance all weekend, so it was going to take something pretty special here."
Hamilton said he was relishing the prospect of a close battle with Verstappen all season.
The 36-year-old's first win this season increased his career record total to 96 wins – 75 of them with Mercedes. He also passed Michael Schumacher's record of laps led in a race and recorded the 300th win by a British driver.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.