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
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