Charles the first as Leclerc edges Vettel for Bahrain pole


Manama (AFP)

Charles Leclerc hopes he will be free to race and beat his Ferrari team-mate and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel without team orders interfering in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

That is if Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto, who began in the role this season, stands by the intentions he outlined when he spoke to reporters just before the 21-year-old Monegasque claimed his maiden pole position.

"Charles is allowed to go as fast as he can, he is allowed to try to stay ahead and we're not stopping him doing that.

"But I think it's important that our two drivers are not fighting and taking any risks and crashing together. No doubt that if the first lap Charles is ahead he will stay, if at the end of the race he is ahead he will stay ahead."

Vettel, the most successful driver in terms of race wins in Bahrain, is bidding to claim an unprecedented third win in a row at the Bahrain International Circuit and can wreck Leclerc's dream of a maiden victory if he makes a better start.

But the popular Leclerc's modesty and cool demeanour has impressed the Ferrari team and neutrals in the paddock already after he became the second youngest pole-sitter -? behind Vettel -? in F1 history and the youngest-ever for Ferrari.

After claiming pole with a record lap of the Sakhir track, he said he had "learned a lot" from Vettel and was very happy to be ahead of him in qualifying.

The former Sauber driver, who was promoted to Ferrari after an impressive maiden season in 2018, added: "I have learned a lot from him and I will probably learn more, but here today I'm just very happy to be in front him. So, it's a good day for me."

He explained that he had worked to eliminate the mistakes he had made during qualifying in Melbourne two weeks ago where he qualified fifth for the Australian Grand Prix.

"There are a lot of emotions for me, but I am trying to stay as calm as possible. I'm extremely happy," said Leclerc after his 1min 27.866sec lap.

"Obviously, in the last race, I was not very happy with my qualifying. I did some mistakes in Q3 and I really worked hard to try and not do the same here and it seems like we did quite a good job."

In Australia, Leclerc was told to stay behind Vettel in the closing laps when Ferrari, a team known to operate team orders, wanted to protect their position.

- 'Work as a team' -

Vettel stressed that it was important for Ferrari to stick together as a team.

"We have a very, very tough race ahead of us," he said. "We need to work as a team and try to make sure we stay first and second.

"We'll see how it goes. I think it is pretty clear -- Charles starts ahead. He has the advantage of pole position."

Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was less than a tenth of a second behind Vettel in third ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

"The Ferraris have been incredibly quick here," said Hamilton

"But that is not all there is to it and we have to sit down and work out a way to try and beat them."

Dutchman Max Verstappen of Red Bull came in fifth ahead of Dane Kevin Magnussen of Haas.

Carlos Sainz was seventh for a resurgent McLaren ahead of Romain Grosjean in the second Haas, Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo and British rookie Lando Norris in the second McLaren.

Later Saturday, Romain Grosjean was given a three-place grid penalty for slowing and baulking Norris during qualifying.

The French driver said he did not know that the rookie, in his McLaren, was approaching rapidly behind his Haas car.

Grosjean was also given a penalty point for the offence, increasing his total to eight and moving him within four points of a possible ban.

He will now start on the sixth row in Sunday's race.