MANAMA • Lewis Hamilton will have to do what no Formula One driver has ever done to win today's Bahrain Grand Prix after an unscheduled gearbox change left the Mercedes driver facing a five-place grid penalty.
While the four-time world champion cannot now start on the front two rows, the floodlit race at Sakhir has never been won by anyone starting lower than fourth since it was first held in 2004.
In yesterday's qualifying, championship leader Sebastian Vettel put Ferrari on pole for today's race with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen alongside him on the front row.
"If the car is responding to what you want it to do, it's a pleasure - otherwise it's a fight," said Vettel.
Hamilton qualified fourth but will start the race in ninth place after a Mercedes spokesman confirmed yesterday the Briton had a new gearbox for yesterday's final practice and qualifying, incurring an automatic five-place penalty. Gearboxes must last for six successive races, according to the rules.
Hamilton had been off the pace in Friday's two practice sessions, unable to match the Ferraris.
"(Hamilton) will take a five-place penalty. We had an hydraulic leak in (the last) Melbourne race and were fortunate to finish the race," a Mercedes spokesman said.
BAHRAIN GP GRID
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull
5 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso
6 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas
7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault
8 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India
9 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
10 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Renault
13 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren
15 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull
"Unfortunately we couldn't repair the box within the six-race cycle so (we) need to take a fresh one, incurring the grid penalty."
Hamilton finished second in the Australian season-opener two weeks ago, after storming to pole position. The race was won by Vettel, thanks to a stroke of luck provided by the deployment of the virtual safety car at just the right time for the German, also a four-time world champion.
Ferrari were one-two at the top of the end-of-day practice timesheets in Bahrain on Friday, with 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Vettel.
Hamilton is still on course to rack up his 27th successive points finish, a result that would equal Raikkonen's all-time record.
The Briton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas took pole in Bahrain last year, the fifth year in a row that a Mercedes driver had done that, but Vettel won the race.
The winner in Bahrain has started on pole on five of the past 13 occasions. REUTERS
F1 BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX
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