The tables turned in F1 Bahrain GP with Ferrari taking centerstage in qualifying after Charles Leclerc ‘s pole but Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton intends to fight back.
All weekend in Bahrain – whether under daylight or floodlight – Ferrari looked the stronger car from Mercedes, with the pace shown by the Italian manufacturer in the pre-season tests coming to light, a race later than planned at Bahrain International Circuit.
Out of the two Ferrari drivers, Leclerc seemed on pace mostly with Sebastian Vettel somewhat missing few tenths. It proved the same in qualifying with Leclerc scoring his first-ever F1 pole beating Vettel by 0.294s in a straight fight.
Even though Vettel was hampered due to an extra run in Q2, Leclerc never looked like to be beaten. It was all emotions for the Monegasque, as he became the second youngest to score a pole. He dedicated the pole to his late father, Jules Bianchi and Charlie Whiting.
“I have a lot of emotions but I’m trying to stay as cool as possible because, unfortunately, there are no points awarded for the pole position and all points will be awarded tomorrow,” said Leclerc after qualifying.
“So, of course I’ll enjoy the moment, it has been a great day and a great weekend overall until now for us, and I hope it will continue tomorrow. The target now is to focus on the race and try to do the best race possible – but obviously it’s amazing to be here.”
While Leclerc nailed it in practice and qualifying, the race will be a key test to see how he performs especially with Vettel alongside him in the front-row. Following the disappointment in qualifying, the German focused on to get a 1-2 result in Bahrain GP.
With the team not getting through well in Australia, the first task will be surely to collect as many points to get ahead of Mercedes. It is unclear to know if Vettel would have beaten Leclerc but the German conceded that the Q2 issue did hamper his rhythm a bit.
Traffic on his first quick lap left him vulnerable which forced him to do an extra lap as he could only do one in Q3. He was also summoned for driving too slowly in Q2 but no further action was warranted while he indirectly played a part in another incident.
He passed Haas’ Romain Grosjean in the approach to the final corner in Q1 which forced the Frenchman to slow down which then caught out a fast approaching Norris. The Frenchman was penalised but it seems like it was a chain reaction.
“I think overall the car was very strong so far this weekend,” said Vettel. “I’ve been a little bit more vocal about the rear not being exactly where I wanted it to be. Maybe Charles felt a little bit more confident all weekend.
“I think our qualifying slipped away a little bit with what happened in Q2 so you lose the rhythm a little bit. It wasn’t ideal but it’s not about, at this point, sitting here now, being P2, is not about arguing here and arguing there.
“Also, it’s pretty clear that from the team’s point of view we got the front row today and we obviously have a very-very tough race ahead of us tomorrow so I think we need to work as a team and try to make sure we stay first and second.
“I think the order is irrelevant for the team so I think it’s pretty clear. Obviously Charles starts ahead so he has the advantage of pole position and then we will see how it goes.” It will be interesting to see how the Ferrari game plays out in the Bahrain GP race.
While the Italian manufacturer soared, the Mercedes camp was a little subdued with an evident performance gap. Hamilton was even behind teammate Valtteri Bottas to start the weekend but bridged the gap and got in front with some changes to the car.
The intention is clear to fight back but he conceded that Ferrari will have the advantage going into the Bahrain GP race and what they saw with their straightline speed, it is a bonus for them. In addition, he also admitted that Bahrain remains a weak circuit for him.
“I made changes to the car overnight and during the day today so I’m hopeful the car is in a better position,” said Hamilton. “This is honestly a weak circuit for me. That’s why I’m a little more upbeat.
“I had a deficit of three-tenths at least all day yesterday to Valtteri and managed to turn that around a little bit. It’s very, very hard this race. It’s very tough on the tyres and it’s a physically-challenging circuit and it is incredibly challenging for the car as well.
“On top of it, all weekend we’ve seen incredible pace from the Ferraris. Honestly, I didn’t know if we’d be as close as we were at the end because they were pulling some serious speeds on the straights, which is generally where we lost a lot of the time today.
“It was just in straight line. But I’ve got the extra tyre for tomorrow, which I’m happy about. I’m just excited because it was a close battle and that’s really how it should be. I couldn’t have done the same time as Charles, so we’ve got work to do.”
Here’s reactions from Haas and Red Bull Racing