MANAMA • Formula One's Australian season-opener left Valtteri Bottas with a winning feeling that the Finn is determined to hang on to in tomorrow's Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 29-year-old Mercedes driver, who started the year in meaner and more aggressive mood, took a crushing victory in Melbourne two weeks ago to finish more than 20 seconds clear of teammate Lewis Hamilton.
That handed him the maximum 25 points for the win plus an extra point for setting the fastest lap.
Buoyed by the margin and finding himself heading the championship standings for the first time, albeit with 20 races remaining, Bottas must try to stay ahead at Bahrain's Sakhir circuit - starting with qualifying today.
"When you feel you are performing at your best is a beautiful feeling," the four-time race winner told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.
"I now just need to keep the momentum and feel that again soon."
Bahrain has been one of Bottas' stronger venues in the past.
The Finn scored his first Formula One pole position around the 5.4km layout in 2017 and came within a second of snatching victory from Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel last year.
He is aware, however, that he could face a far tougher challenge tomorrow from Briton Hamilton and a resurgent Ferrari than he did in Australia.
"We were all positively surprised on the performance we had in Melbourne but... it is a bit of a funny circuit," said the Finn.
"I would say here this weekend and (at the next race in) China, we're going to get a much better picture of the real performance at this point of the year."
Vettel, meanwhile, believes pre-season favourites Ferrari have worked out why they lacked pace in Melbourne but he stopped short of promising a resurgence in Bahrain.
The German and new teammate Charles Leclerc were surprisingly slow around the Albert Park circuit two weeks ago, finishing fourth and fifth nearly a minute behind Bottas.
That prompted much head-scratching back at the team's Maranello headquarters, especially after Ferrari had lit up the timing screens in winter testing.
"The last couple of weeks have been very intense," Vettel said.
"I think we have some answers but, as always, you never get all the answers because we never get the chance to go back and repeat.
"I think we are not in a position to be able to make promises. The truth is that we need to wait and see."
Ferrari have the best record of any team in Bahrain with six wins. Vettel, the most successful driver there, has won four times including the last two in a row.
And Leclerc proved that by going fastest in yesterday's opening practice, edging out teammate Vettel.
The Monegasque, in his first year with Ferrari, lapped with a best time of one minute 30.354 seconds, 0.263sec quicker than Vettel, as the Ferraris set a scorching pace around the 5.4km Sakhir desert track in the afternoon heat.
Bottas was third quickest for Mercedes and 0.974sec off Leclerc's pace.
The Finn beat teammate Hamilton, who made a mistake on his quickest run and had to settle for fourth best, 1.247sec off the pace.
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX
Practice 3: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 7.55pm