Ferrari continued to dominate at the 2019 Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, as Charles Leclerc finished top of final practice and qualifying on Saturday. Sebastian Vettel joined him on the front row, beating the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Max Verstappen took fifth place, while Red Bull team-mate Pierre Gasly couldn't even make it into the final qualifying session. McLaren duo Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris did, in what was an excellent day for the team.
But the star of qualifying was Leclerc, who secured his first ever pole position after several impressive practice sessions.
Ferrari dominated every practice session, and their advantage carried over into Q1, as Leclerc's first flying lap was a full second better than Bottas'.
Autosport did note the rest of the field was competitive relative to Mercedes, believing the massive gap may not have been entirely down to pace:
Hamilton would go third-fastest later in the session, although he was still well over half a second behind Leclerc.
Red Bull were significantly slower than the top dogs, with Gasly well behind Verstappen.
Norris and Romain Grosjean nearly came together when the Haas man swerved onto the racing line, drawing the ire of Formula One writer Curtis Moldrich:
Norris didn't let the incident break his concentration, finishing Q1 in an impressive fourth place. Grosjean received a three-place grid penalty, per sportswriter Andrew Benson.
The Williams cars predictably missed out on Q2 as their struggles continued, while Renault's Nico Hulkenberg also couldn't push his way into the second session. He had been a standout in practice, but couldn't even best Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo in Q1.
Hamilton set the early mark in Q2, but his time was once again obliterated by Leclerc. Vettel was significantly slower with his first run, but traffic played a big role; he would record the second-fastest time later in the session.
Daniel Ricciardo and Gasly were both in the drop zone with three minutes to go, while the two McLaren drivers worked their way into the top 10. Despite their best efforts both Ricciardo and Gasly fell short with their final runs, continuing their poor starts to the season.
Gasly blamed an issue with the throttle:
Norris impressed again by going sixth-fastest, drawing praise from YouTuber Matt Gallagher:
Mercedes upped the pace to start Q3 but Leclerc still beat Hamilton's initial offering, taking the lead by 0.232 seconds. Vettel ran twice in Q2 and opted not to venture on track early in Q3, limiting himself to a single run, while Verstappen used the same strategy. Both had just a single set of tyres left to work with.
Vettel's one lap was a good one, although team-mate Leclerc beat him by nearly two tenths to secure a front-row lockout for Ferrari. Mercedes secured the second row, while Sainz beat out Norris, who had to settle for 10th place prior to Grosjean's penalty. It was still a great day for McLaren, who hadn't gotten both cars into the top 10 since 2017.
Here are the standings from final practice in Bahrain:
At the start of the session, the Pirelli Motorsport Twitter account provided details of the tyres in operation this weekend:
After using two new sets of tyres in FP2 on Friday, it was anticipated Ferrari might come back toward the rest of the pack on Saturday before giving it their all in qualifying. But they were relentless again in final practice.
The Scuderia drivers were coasting for much of the session, until Leclerc upped the pace late on with his mark of 1:29.569.
It was a standard the rest of the field were unable to get near to, meaning the Monegasque driver was on top for the second time this weekend.
The Autosport Live Twitter account noted there had been encouraging signs from Leclerc in his lap construction:
F1 journalist Luke Smith was also impressed with what he'd seen from the Scuderia:
It will be intriguing to see how Leclerc copes with the extra expectation in qualifying, especially going up against his team-mate, Vettel; the German has won on four occasions at this circuit.
If it's not going to be a Ferrari on top on Sunday, Mercedes will have to do something drastic. Early in the day, they appeared to be at their maximum; when the Silver Arrows are at full tilt, it's rare to see someone of Hamilton's pedigree so far off the pace.