Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes had the pace to beat Sebastian Vettel in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix but could not match polesitter Charles Leclerc.
Ferrari has dominated the race weekend so far, securing a clean sweep of all three practice sessions and converting that into a one-two in qualifying. Leclerc took his first pole position by nearly 0.3s but Vettel was only 0.03s ahead of Hamilton, and the defending champion was encouraged by how close he got to the top two.
“Firstly, congratulations to Charles,” Hamilton said. “He did an incredible job — really, really happy for him. The first pole is a dream that you set for yourself when you’re young. It only comes once, so he truly deserves it.
“I had a pretty good session in general. Yesterday was a real struggle. All weekend we’ve seen incredible pace from the Ferraris. Honestly I didn’t know if we’d be as close as we were at the end because they were pulling some serious speeds on the straights, which is generally where we lost a lot of the time today. It was just in a straight line. Great turnaround for them.
“I think my sessions went relatively smoothly. I’ve got the extra tire for tomorrow, which I’m happy about and… I’m just excited because it was a close battle and that’s really how it should be. Three-thousandths, or whatever it was between myself and Sebastian.
“I definitely had it in that lap — the excitement of being on the edge and kind of having it and not having it is what makes it exciting. I couldn’t have done the same time as Charles, so we’ve got work to do but tomorrow is where the points are bagged. So, we will just focus, keep our heads down, try to maximize our strategy and our tires tomorrow.”
Heading into the race, Hamilton admits he’s facing a slightly unknown situation due to overnight changes that helped in qualifying but are untested in representative race conditions.
“From my pace yesterday, no (Ferrari isn’t beatable) — but I made changes to the car overnight and during the day today, so I’m hopeful the car is in a better position. This is honestly a weak circuit for me. That’s why I’m a little more upbeat — because I had a deficit fo three-tenths at least all day yesterday to Valtteri (Bottas) and managed to turn that around a little bit.
“The race here last year was quite strong. Ultimately, I had a gearbox penalty but now we’re in a much better fighting position. It’s very, very hard, this race. It’s very tough on the tires and it’s a physically challenging circuit. It is incredibly challenging for the car as well, so I just hope that there’s some excitement tomorrow — one way or another.”