Ferrari appear to be back on form after dominating Friday practice at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Italian team struggled at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, finishing nearly a minute behind race-winner Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes.
But Sebastian Vettel headed Charles Leclerc to a one-two in Friday second practice, 0.603 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Leclerc topped the first session from Vettel, nearly a second up on Bottas.
“The Ferraris have been quick from the get-go and picked up more pace from there, so it’s completely different to what we’ve seen in Melbourne,” said world champion Hamilton.
“We had some issues with the balance of the car, but we made improvements for FP2. At the moment it looks like the Ferraris are ahead, so we have to keep our heads down, keep working, analyse things tonight and try and come back stronger tomorrow.
“I think as we get to qualifying, everything will get a little bit closer, but it is going to be a tough battle.”
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto supported that view, saying he thought the results of Friday practice were “misleading” and that he believed Ferrari had been running their engines more aggressively than Mercedes.
Binotto added that he expects a “very tight battle” with Mercedes in qualifying but did say the team were “progressing” after Australia and they were not suffering from the same problems they had there.
Unusually, Ferrari did a second qualifying simulation run in second practice, Vettel and Leclerc both improving marginally over their first lap.
Vettel extended his advantage over Hamilton by 0.1secs, and Leclerc, who had been 0.141s slower than Vettel on his first run, reduced the gap to his team-mate to just 0.035s.
Ferrari’s performance on the first day of the weekend at the Sakhir circuit was more akin to what was expected of them in Australia after impressing in pre-season testing.
Mercedes believed they could be as much as 0.5s a lap slower than Ferrari after testing but they dominated the opening weekend of the season while Ferrari struggled.
But the red cars have been quick from the off in Bahrain and at this early stage look the team to beat, although it is notoriously difficult to predict exact form from Friday practice.
However, Vettel did have a spin losing control of the Ferrari under power at Turn Two as he started his race simulation run later in the session.
Meanwhile, Red Bull were unexpectedly slow, at least on one-lap pace.
Max Verstappen was only sixth quickest, 0.783s off Vettel and team-mate Pierre Gasly 0.862s further back in 13th.
The Dutchman was slower than the impressive Renault of Nico Hulkenberg in fifth, with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and McLaren’s Lando Norris, the British rookie, in seventh and eighth, ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.
This article is from the BBC Sport website / bbc.co.uk – Bahrian GP: Sebastian Vettel top as Ferrari dominate practice