On just his second Grand Prix outing with Ferrari, 21-year-old Charles Leclerc became Formula 1’s second-youngest ever pole-winner with a dominant qualifying display under the floodlights at the Bahrain International Circuit.
That the Monégasque driver, in only his second season of Grand Prix racing, intends to be a contender in this year’s championship fight is beyond doubt. His driving was imperious, beating home four-time World Championship-winning teammate Sebastian Vettel – the youngest pole-winner way back in 2008 – and the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Ferrari staged the perfect reply to an off-the-pace and off-song performance in Australia, dominating all three practice sessions this weekend to the tune of over half a second to the Mercedes’. The final margin was much tighter on Saturday night, but a front-row lockout proved that the SF90 remains the car to beat in the tiny Gulf state.
Beaten to top spot by a healthy three-tenths of a second, Vettel was gracious in defeat.
“Congratulations to him, it’s his day,” he said. “My day was not ideal [but] even with an ideal day, it would have been difficult to beat him today. My first pole was a while ago, but certainly it’s a day you never forget.”
Having themselves been so dominant in Melbourne, Mercedes was left trailing in the red cars’ wake throughout the weekend, as Hamilton acknowledged.
“Ferrari have been incredibly strong. I couldn’t have done Charles’s time. We have some work to do,” he said, but caveated his disappointment with cautious optimism. “They have shown incredible pace but that doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten.”
What could play into Mercedes’ hands is how Ferrari’s management will handle its two drivers after its new young hotshot outpaced its veteran. The team will let its drivers race, but in true ‘mixed message madness’ have also said they will favour Vettel if needed. Leclerc lacks any experience leading a Grand Prix and the pressure that comes with it, while last year Vettel made a number of errors when he was being threatened.
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen finished fifth-fastest ahead of the Haas Ferrari of Kevin Magnussen – the latter’s teammate Romain Grosjean qualified eighth-fastest but will be demoted three places on the grid for blocking Lando Norris in Q1.
McLaren will be buoyed by getting both cars into Q3 for the first time this season, with Carlos Sainz Jr. and Norris qualifying seventh- and tenth-fastest respectively. Kimi Räikkönen was ninth-quickest for Alfa Romeo.
|FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 2019 – QUALIFYING|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:27.866|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:28.160||+ 0.294|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:28.190||+ 0.324|
|4.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:28.256||+ 0.390|
|5.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:28.752||+ 0.886|
|6.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:28.757||+ 0.891|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:28.813||+ 0.947|
|8.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:29.015||+ 1.149|
|9.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:29.022||+ 1.156|
|10.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:29.043||+ 1.177|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|11.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:29.488||+ 1.442|
|12.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:29.513||+ 1.467|
|13.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:29.526||+ 1.480|
|14.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:29.756||+ 1.710|
|15.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:29.854||+ 1.808|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|16.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:30.026||+ 1.531|
|17.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:30.034||+ 1.539|
|18.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:30.217||+ 1.722|
|19.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:31.759||+ 3.264|
|20.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:31.799||+ 3.304|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:28.495 posted by Charles Leclerc
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:28.046 posted by Charles Leclerc
- Romain Grosjean – who provisionally qualified 8th-fastest – will serve a three-pleace grid penalty for impeding Lando Norris during qualifying.
Images via Scuderia Ferrari