Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix preview

Where do Mc Laren sit in the pecking order? | Image Octane

Where do Mc Laren sit in the pecking order? | Image Octane

Because of an unfair release pit stop, Raikkonen and his team could be fined, or even issued a three-place demotion from the grid wherever Raikkonen finishes in qualifying on Saturday. Vettel was joined by Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen on the podium.

The German, victor a year ago on this circuit, lapped the 5.4-km Sakhir track in a time of one minute 27.958 seconds on Saturday, edging Raikkonen by a margin of 0.143 seconds.

Hamilton's chances of winning the race took a hit after he was penalized five grid penalties for an unscheduled gearbox change on Friday.

Sebastian Vettel in action during the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying.

"I was very happy with both laps in the end, and very happy with the result and the way the vehicle was handling and responding", he added.

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When asked where the pace has gone since Melbourne, he said: "I think that was a really good lap from me and whilst I tried to get the same again here it's not something you can always do".

Hamilton claimed pole at the Melbourne opener by 0.6s, a lap Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo likened to Mercedes giving the rest of the paddock the middle finger and throwing a pie in everyone's face. It looked like a similar error, just losing control of the auto through the apex, at a race Red Bull would have hoped to have two cars putting Ferrari under pressure from the very start.

The Briton had been off the pace in the day's two free practice sessions, ending up the fourth fastest in the evening.

Vettel drew first blood when he won the season-opening Australian GP ahead of Hamilton.

But he could only manage fourth, failing to improve his time on his final lap and leapfrogged by Bottas.

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But he has been helped by a mistake by Max Verstappen, who crashed his Red Bull in first qualifying and will start 15th. "In clear air we were actually very, very strong", the 28-year-old told reporters.

Toro Rosso rookie Pierre Gasly is next on the grid, promising an intriguing start to Sunday's race.

Renault continued their solid start to the season with Nico Hulkenberg sixth and Carlos Sainz 10th as Esteban Ocon signalled Force India's improvement by making Q3 in eighth.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly was ninth in his Honda-powered Toro Rosso with Fernando Alonso, a three-times victor in Bahrain, rounding out the top 10 in his McLaren.

Rounding out the field was the Alfa Romeo Sauber of Marcus Ericsson followed by Stoffel Vandoorne, Charles Leclerc and the two Williams of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll.

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The wounded were being brought in with fractures and other injuries, and there had been three amputations on Friday alone, he said.

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