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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

Charles Leclerc unsure of Ferrari's tactics for Bahrain GP after beating Sebastian Vettel to pole

World champion Lewis Hamilton third on the grid in Sakhir at a venue he admits is a 'weak circuit' for him

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, centre, smiles after taking the first pole position of his career in Bahrain. AP Photo
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, centre, smiles after taking the first pole position of his career in Bahrain. AP Photo

Charles Leclerc upstaged Sebastian Vettel to claim his first pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

In only his second race in Ferrari's famous colours, Leclerc, aged just 21 years and 165 days, delivered a thrashing to team-mate Vettel and Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton, who lines up in third.

He becomes the second-youngest pole-sitter in Formula One history, behind Vettel who was 21 years and 72 days old when he secured pole for the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.

How much longer Vettel holds on to his number one status at Ferrari remains to be seen.

Ferrari put the brakes on Leclerc challenging Vettel for fourth position at the season-opening race in Melbourne to indicate that the young driver, hired from Sauber after an impressive rookie campaign, will play a support role this year.

Yet the margin of Leclerc's one-lap advantage on Saturday night, a third-of-a-second over this 3.3-mile course, could force Ferrari into a rethink.

For his part, Leclerc has no plans to concede the win to Vettel, who has finished a distant second in the championship to Hamilton for the past two years.

"We haven't had our pre-race team meeting so at the moment I don't know how it will play out, but I will do absolutely everything to keep my first place," he said with telling intent.

"Seb is an amazing driver. I have learned a lot from him and I will probably learn more, but today I'm very happy to be in front of him."

Vettel said: "As a team we try to make sure we stay first and second, and in which order is irrelevant. Charles starts ahead so he has the advantage of first position."

Despite the intra-team politics, there will be relief at Ferrari, following their off-colour display in Australia.

Mercedes ripped up the pre-season form book to dominate then, but the silver cars have been second-best this weekend.

Mercedes could have been forgiven for leaving the first race with their sights firmly fixed on a record-equalling sixth consecutive constructors' championship.

They now know they are back in a battle, with Ferrari matching McLaren and Williams by securing their 62nd front-row lock-out. By his own admission, the Bahrain venue is not among Hamilton's strongest tracks, but after trailing Ferrari by more than half-a-second in practice, the five-time world champion was relieved to finish just three-hundredths of a second behind Vettel.

Valtteri Bottas, the championship leader, finished fourth.

"This is a weak circuit for me, so that is why I am upbeat," said Hamilton.

"The race here last year was a strong one. It is very hard and physically challenging so I just hope there is some excitement."

Max Verstappen qualified fifth for Red Bull, while a rejuvenated McLaren managed to get both of their cars into Q3 for the first time since Malaysia 2017.

Carlos Sainz lines up seventh as British teenager Lando Norris progressed to the final phase of qualifying for the second time in as many races to take 10th.

Williams are a team in deep crisis, and they will occupy the last row. British novice George Russell and Robert Kubica were 1.5secs slower than anybody else.

Updated: March 31, 2019 08:20 AM

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