Formula One: Vettel's Bahrain bid up in smoke

German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari in action ahead of Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of Scuderia Toro Rosso during the third practice session of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit near Manama
German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari in action ahead of Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of Scuderia Toro Rosso during the third practice session of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit near Manama, Bahrain, on April 2, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

MANAMA (AFP) - Sebastian Vettel's Bahrain Grand Prix hopes ended in a cloud of smoke as his Ferrari's engine packed up on the warm-up lap.

The four-time former world champion was well placed in third on the grid to mount a serious challenge to Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on the front row.

But the German's premature exit left Kimi Raikkonen, starting from fourth, flying the Ferrari flag in this second leg of the 2016 season.

Once safely back in the pits Vettel told BBC Radio 5 that his car’s race-ending problem “was very sudden”.  He added: “We didn’t expect to have any problems. Now let’s push on Kimi’s car and see after the race what happened. 

“I think we have reason to be confident but it caught us by surprise today.”

The race got off to a dramatic start with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes taking a hit from the Williams of Valtteri Bottas into the first bend.  Bottas was deemed at fault and received a drive through penalty. 

The world champion dropped back to sixth early on as Rosberg, aiming to make it two wins out of two after success in last month’s opener in Melbourne, leading. 

Another early retirement was Jolyon Palmer, who got as far as lap two before having to climb out of his Renault.  As Hamilton moved up to sit third by lap eight, Jenson Button became the third to drop out when his McLaren came to a halt at turn 10.