Fer­rari are just too quick for me, ad­mits Hamil­ton

Bri­ton to start from ninth spot af­ter poor qual­i­fy­ing Vet­tel rev­els in the hot con­di­tions to win pole

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Cricket - By Philip Duncan in Bahrain

Lewis Hamil­ton was last night fac­ing up to the prospect of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel adding fur­ther day­light be­tween them in their world cham­pi­onship bat­tle af­ter watch­ing his ri­val storm to pole po­si­tion.

Hamil­ton will line up in ninth spot for to­day’s race af­ter an off-colour dis­play in qual­i­fy­ing was cou­pled with a five-place grid penalty fol­low­ing a gear­box change on his Mercedes.

The de­fend­ing cham­pion has been mys­te­ri­ously slug­gish all week­end, with Vet­tel’s Fer­rari team daz­zling in the hot­ter track con­di­tions. Kimi Raikko­nen will join his team-mate on the front row with Mercedes’ Valt­teri Bot­tas third.

While only one of the last five pole­sit­ters have con­verted the top spot on the grid in Bahrain into a vic­tory – and that was Hamil­ton back in 2015 – no driver has ever won from fur­ther back than fourth. Hamil­ton has also never won a race from out­side the top six on the grid.

Hamil­ton should have taken the che­quered flag in Aus­tralia a fort­night ago be­fore a tim­ing mix-up by his Mercedes team paved the way for Vet­tel to seal an un­likely vic­tory.

Now, the Bri­ton could head to Shang­hai for the next chap­ter of this year’s ti­tle race a week to­day even fur­ther be­hind if the Ger­man con­verts his pole into a sec­ond win from as many grands prix. “It is not go­ing to be the eas­i­est race, but I will give it ev­ery­thing I have got,” Hamil­ton, 33, said. “The goal was to fin­ish first to­day, but the Fer­raris were too quick. We will try to re­cover from where we are, and there are a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent strate­gies we can use. I will try to eek out ev­ery last bit of power and strength from this car.”

Vet­tel won con­vinc­ingly un­der the Sakhir cir­cuit flood­lights last year, and with Raikko­nen ef­fec­tively act­ing along­side him as a rear-gun­ner, the prob­a­bil­ity is that the Ger­man will tri­umph this term, too.

The four-time cham­pion trailed Raikko­nen fol­low­ing the open­ing qual­i­fy­ing runs in the desert, but the cham­pi­onship leader de­liv­ered the goods when it mat­tered most. “I was very happy that I got the sec­ond run and I got it clean,” Vet­tel said. “The car has been ex­cel­lent all week­end, so I am look­ing for­ward to the race.

“If the car is re­spond­ing to what you want to do it is a plea­sure to drive, other­wise it is a fight. Aus­tralia was more of a fight, but we have im­proved here.

“I feel good now, but to­mor­row is a dif­fer­ent story and it is a long race, but the car is quick so that helps.”

Daniel Ric­cia­rdo lines up in fourth for Red Bull, but his team-mate Max Ver­stap­pen – ex­pected to be a con­tender for pole here – saw his ragged start to the new cam­paign con­tinue af­ter a 140mph shunt. The 20-year-old, who spun in Mel­bourne, lost con­trol of his car on the exit of turn 2, be­fore slid­ing into the bar­rier on the op­pos­ing side of the cir­cuit.

Ver­stap­pen did man­age to com­plete a speedy lap be­fore his crash to spare him the in­dig­nity of prop­ping up the grid. He will start 15th.

Ahead of him will be Fer­nando Alonso and Stof­fel Van­doorne. Af­ter Sil­ver­stone, this is ef­fec­tively McLaren’s sec­ond home race given their fi­nan­cial ties with the Bahraini royal fam­ily, but the guests that squeezed into the team’s hos­pi­tal­ity suite were pro­vided with a mis­er­able show­ing as Alonso qual­i­fied a tor­rid 13th. Van­doorne was one place fur­ther back.

McLaren’s di­vorce from Honda power, and switch to Re­nault, was sup­posed to usher in a new era for Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful F1 team, but their glo­ries of yes­ter­year ap­pear a dis­tant mem­ory.

Adding in­sult to in­jury, both of the Toro Rosso cars, now pow­ered by Honda, will start ahead of Alonso and Van­doorne. In­deed, Pierre Gasly qual­i­fied a dizzy­ing sixth.

McLaren’s Amer­i­can ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Zak Brown claimed his cars would chal­lenge Red Bull this year, but Alonso was 1.3 sec­onds slower than Ric­cia­rdo and nearly two sec­onds adrift of Vet­tel. “It is a little bit worse than our ex­pec­ta­tions,” Alonso ad­mit­ted. “We were hop­ing for bet­ter re­sults and fight­ing for a spot in the top 10.

“It was a bad sur­prise as I didn’t ex­pect to be that far back. Head­ing to this race, we had high hopes, but our start­ing po­si­tion is now com­pro­mised.” Rac­ing di­rec­tor Eric Boul­lier was un­avail­able for com­ment fol­low­ing what the team de­scribed as an “emer­gency brief­ing”.

McLaren can take some com­fort from their re­serve driver Lando Nor­ris’s dis­play ear­lier in Bahrain as he stormed to vic­tory on his For­mula Two de­but. But while Nor­ris, the Bri­tish teenager, pro­vided hope that there may be life af­ter Lewis, McLaren’s trou­bles only con­tinue to deepen.

Out of sorts: Lewis Hamil­ton dur­ing an un­usu­ally slug­gish per­for­mance in prac­tice; (be­low) the Bri­ton re­flects on his drive

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