RACE DEBRIEF

    Mercedes were the surprise package at Australia’s season-opener, dominating pre-race favourites Ferrari. But in Bahrain on Friday the form book was very much reversed – and even world champion Lewis Hamilton couldn’t stay in touch with the scarlet cars.

    Hamilton ended FP2 third fastest, but over half a second down on Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, as Ferrari rediscovered the speed that had seen them lead the way throughout pre-season testing.

    “The Ferraris have been quick from the get-go and then they picked up a massive amount of pace so it’s completely different to what we’ve seen at the last race,” said Hamilton.

    “We made some improvements going into P2 – on my side particularly I’ve been struggling all weekend with the balance of the car, but what you do is keep your head down and just keep working.

    “I’m sure we’ll analyse things tonight and come back a little stronger tomorrow, but at the moment the Ferraris are quite far ahead.”

    2019 Bahrain GP
    'At the moment the Ferraris are quite far ahead' - Lewis Hamilton

    Hamilton denied that Mercedes had been sandbagging in pre-season testing, adding that Ferrari were back on top here despite the Silver Arrows bringing updates to their car to Sakhir. He is however, expecting a tighter fight in qualifying.

    “We didn’t hold back in testing - it just so happened we improved the car for the last couple of days and the first race. I think the Ferraris were down for whatever reason, we’ve come here and made improvements to our car and now it looks like it’s the other way around.

    “We literally just do our jobs to the best of our abilities – we’ve not got anything sat in the back. I think as we get to qualifying we’ll get a little bit closer, but it’s definitely going to be a tough battle.”

    Hamilton’s team mate and Melbourne winner Valtteri Bottas said he will be relishing that battle – one that would be even sweeter to win if Ferrari really are the threat they appear to be after Friday’s running.

    “There’s still plenty to gain,” insisted the Finn, who finished FP2 just a tenth down on Hamilton. “Any of my laps that were on the board today were not great yet, so I know there’s more to come. Honestly I think it (qualifying) is going to be close based on today – it’s only Friday, it’s difficult to say in detail.

    “Maybe I’m looking forward to tomorrow because I am looking forward to a great fight. Of course we’d like to be miles ahead, but if there’s a fight, then fighting for the pole and then getting the pole, it’s even better!”

    FP1: Dust flies as Hamilton runs wide