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Raikkonen fastest but risks grid penalty

Raikkonen fastest but risks grid penalty

Following and overtaking is notoriously hard in the Mercedes auto - demonstrated at the Australian Grand Prix when Bottas started fifteenth and, despite having a vehicle faster than most of the grid, only finished eighth - and this will make the race hard, says Hamilton.

Vettel, last year's championship runner-up, has a golden chance to extend his overall lead.

Hamilton came to Bahrain knowing he was in for a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, so he needed to be on his game - with a flawless vehicle - to minimise the damage and give himself the best chance in the race.

Verstappen has demonstrated his overtaking qualities on numerous occasions in the past, including his climb from 16th to third in China last season, and he will have to call on all that ability in Bahrain.

Montreal's Lance Stroll will start in 20th place at Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

"That was quite intense", said a relieved-looking Vettel, who ran wide over the kerbs at the final corner on his first run in the final qualifying phase.

"I was very happy with both laps in the end, and very happy with the result and the way the auto was handling and responding", he added. Referring to Hamilton's comments in Saturday's press conference, Vettel said: "He said he was joking and I believe him". "The auto has been excellent all weekend so I am looking forward to the race". Bottas finished 0.563s behind the leader in third while Hamilton was 0.655s off pace in fourth.

He was on provisional pole as drivers embarked on their final runs but ran into traffic on his final flier. This meant that the four-time champion was unable to perform a qualifying run. "We've got more to do overnight and in the practice tomorrow (Saturday) to five us a vehicle that can fight in qualifying and on Sunday".

The surprise package of qualifying was Pierre Gasly's Toro Rosso. He explained over team radio that his outlap was a mess, meaning his tyre preparation was not as good as it could be and he set a time 0.936s off Haas teammate Magnussen.

Valtteri Bottas was sixth fastest in the second Mercedes, nearly one second adrift of Raikkonen while Nico Hulkenberg fronted the midfield in seventh, ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr who was eighth in the second Renault.

"If you look at the pace, testing, first race, (it's) very clear that Mercedes is fastest", Vettel told reporters on at the Sakhir circuit on Thursday.

According to article 23.5a of Formula 1's sporting regulations, a gearbox must be used in six consecutive races before it is permitted to be changed.