March 30, 2019
• Monegasque second youngest to take Fi pole at 21y 165d
Lewis Hamilton third fastest, Valtteri Bottas fourth
Charles Leclerc pips Sebastian Vettel to Bahrain F1 pole on Ferrari’s day
That Ferrari are absolutely in this season’s title fight was confirmed with glorious, youthful aplomb when Charles Leclerc stormed to a dominant pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix. The 21-year-old’s first ever pole delivered notice that he too resolutely intends to be a player in the championship battle. He drove magnificently, entirely undaunted by his four-time world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel, who was in second.
The Scuderia were off the pace and off-colour in Australia but it was Ferrari’s young gun who made the red cars impossible to ignore in Bahrain. Leclerc put in a series of faultless laps that Vettel could not match and nor could Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who were a full three-tenths back in third and fourth. Ferrari had been on top all weekend and, pleasingly for the championship battle, their front-row lockout proves they are more than capable of taking the fight to Mercedes.
Ferrari were joyous, as was the young Monégasque as he revelled in a special moment. “I am truly happy,” he said. “Seb is an amazing driver and I have learned a lot from him and I will learn from him all year but today is a good day for me.
“A lot of emotions but I am trying to stay as cool as possible because there are no points for pole position. It has been a great weekend for us but now we have to focus on the race and do the best race possible.”
Leclerc’s first career pole position is a hugely impressive start in only his second meeting for Ferrari. That he managed it under the immense pressure of driving for the Scuderia only reinforces his strong credentials as a potential world champion.
Vettel acknowledged his teammate’s achievement and the strides Ferrari have made since Melbourne. “Charles did a very good job today and he deserves to be on pole,” he said. “We are both much happier with the car this weekend. The credit goes to the team. We came here and proved we are capable of fighting at the front and for pole.”
Ferrari were left perplexed at their lack of pace in Melbourne, finishing down the field in fourth and fifth to a Mercedes one-two from Bottas and Hamilton. However, here they found both the grip and balance that were absent at Albert Park and Leclerc took advantage.
On this form Ferrari are once again on the front foot, as acknowledged by Hamilton. “Ferrari have been incredibly strong. I couldn’t have done Charles’s time. We have some work to do,” he said. However, the British driver, who has shown good race pace, remained optimistic. “Ferrari have been incredibly quick,” he added. “They have shown incredible pace but that doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten.”
Leclerc’s performance was one of maturity that belies his age. At 21 years and 165 days, he is the second youngest driver to have taken the top spot in qualifying; only Vettel in 2008 was younger. Leclerc knows the real business begins on Sunday but Vettel has been made fully aware there will be no pushover in the garage next door this season.
This puts the spotlight firmly on the Ferrari pit wall. The team have said they will let their drivers race but also that under certain circumstances they will favour Vettel. In Australia they told a charging Leclerc to hold station behind the German in the closing stages. How they handle their drivers may be crucial and an indicator of how they intend the season to play out. The team principal, Mattia Binotto, said on Friday that Leclerc would be allowed to stay in the lead should he hold it, and this prodigious young talent has put himself in the best possible position to do so.
Max Verstappen’s Red Bull was fifth and Kevin Magnussen in the Haas took sixth. McLaren will be buoyed by putting two cars into Q3, with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in seventh and 10th respectively. Romain Grosjean was in eighth for Haas but received a three-place grid penalty for blocking Norris in Q1. Kimi Räikkönen was in ninth for Alfa Romeo.
Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly had another disappointing qualifying, going out in Q2 in 13th, lacking traction from his tyres. Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault was in 11th. The Toro Rosso’s of Alexander Albon and Daniil Kvyat were in 12th and 15th, with Sergio Pérez’s Racing Point in 14th.
The Williams cars of George Russell and Robert Kubica remained at the back of the grid, out in 19th and 20th. Antonio Giovinazzi in the Sauber was in 16th, in front of Nico Hülkenberg in the Renault and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll.
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