Uphill task for Hamilton

Red Bull's Max Verstappen walks away after crashing out in the first round of qualifying at the Bahrain Grand Prix yesterday.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen walks away after crashing out in the first round of qualifying at the Bahrain Grand Prix yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mercedes star incurs five-place grid penalty for gearbox change, Vettel gets Bahrain pole

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

  • 1ST ROW

    1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
    2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari

  • 2ND ROW

    3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes
    4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull

  • 3RD ROW

    5 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso
    6 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas

  • 4TH ROW

    7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault
    8 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India

  • 5TH ROW

    9 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
    10 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Renault

  • SELECTED

    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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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 08, 2018, with the headline 'Uphill task for Hamilton'. Print Edition | Subscribe