Ricciardo failed to finish in Bahrain.
Ricciardo failed to finish in Bahrain.

Ricciardo makes early exit as rookie rocks F1

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc has taken his first F1 pole position with a stunning display under the floodlights in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo's scrapped into the top 10 courtesy of a lucky break after Romain Grosjean was penalised.

Calm and composed ahead of only his second race for the Italian team, the 21-year-old Leclerc was 0.294 seconds clear of last year's pole-sitter, teammate Sebastian Vettel, who secured Ferrari's front row lockout on Saturday.

Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was Ferrari's closest challenger in third for Mercedes, but the Briton was still 0.324 seconds off the pace with teammate Valtteri Bottas alongside in fourth.

"Thanks guys! The car was amazing," Leclerc said over the team radio after his track record time of one minute 27.866 seconds.

"Today is a good beginning, I'll try and finish the job tomorrow," added the youngster, who was fastest in two of the three practice sessions before qualifying and can take his first F1 win on Sunday.

Leclerc, a rookie with Sauber (now Alfa Romeo) last season after winning the Formula Two title, is the second youngest pole-sitter of all time. Vettel did it at 21 years and 73 days with Toro Rosso at Monza in 2008.

He will also be the first driver from Monaco to start at the front since the world championship started in 1950.

 

Charles Leclerc announced himself as a genuine F1 threat.
Charles Leclerc announced himself as a genuine F1 threat.

"I am very confident in the car," Leclerc said. "Today I found it very easy to drive. It's a very good day for us.

"It's crazy to see which drivers I'm fighting with because obviously they are the best.

"It feels good, but the rest of the job, and the most important job to do, will be (the main race), so I'm already focusing on that and trying to be making the perfect start."

Ferrari, mysteriously off the pace at the season-opening race in Australia won by Bottas, were in a league of their own and restored their position as race favourites.

The pole was the team's first since September's Italian Grand Prix, when they also swept the front row but lost to Hamilton in the race.

Vettel, who has more poles in Bahrain than any other driver, could put in only one run in the final pole-position shootout as he had to run twice in qualifying's second phase after being held up by traffic.

Behind the top four, Max Verstappen qualified fifth for Red Bull ahead of Kevin Magnussen in the Haas, McLaren's Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean, also for Haas.

Grosjean was later handed a three-place drop for impeding McLaren's British rookie Lando Norris in the first phase, lifting Kimi Raikkonen to eighth for Alfa Romeo and Norris to ninth.

Daniel Ricciardo was lacking pace in Bahrain.
Daniel Ricciardo was lacking pace in Bahrain.

Ricciardo completed the top 10 for Renault, thanks to Grosjean's penalty, with Thailand's Alexander Albon 12th for Toro Rosso.

Ricciardo is lucky to be starting that high after he exited in Q2 for the second time this season, failing to make it to the final qualifying phase, while his teammate Nico Hulkenberg, having been impressive all weekend, was a surprise early casualty and will line up 17th.

Overall it was another disappointing qualifying session for Renault who were again outclassed by their midfield rivals as they strive to be the "best of the rest".

Grosjean's boss at Haas, Gunther Steiner, slammed the punishment handed down to his driver that paved the way for Ricciardo to leapfrog him on the starting grid, saying it was completely out of line.

Grosjean was handed a point penalty as well as a grid penalty for impeding Norris, meaning the Frenchman now has eight points on his licence. He must remain below 12 points until after the Spanish Grand Prix in May to escape a one-race ban.

"He did not do anything wrong," Steiner said. "There was no radio call. Why should he get a point? That is just like having it out at somebody.

"It is completely inappropriate. It is completely a wrong decision. The three grid positions we can discuss, but to give him a (penalty) points? Guys? Where are we living?

"You try to chat with them (the stewards), but if you don't get it you don't get it. If you don't want to get it you won't get it. I don't know.

"They talk and they talk and then they do what they feel like without considering any factors."

Fallen champions Williams unsurprisingly propped up the timesheets with rookie George Russell edging out experienced Pole Robert Kubica.

STARTING GRID

1. Charles Leclerc (MON/FER)

2. Sebastian Vettel (GER/FER)

3. Lewis Hamilton (ENG/MER)

4. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/MER)

5. Max Verstappen (NED/RBR)

6. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/HAA)

7. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/MCL)

8. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/ALF)

9. Lando Norris (GBR/MCL)

10. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/REN)

11. Romain Grosjean (FRA/HAA)

12. Alexander Albon (THA/STR)

13. Pierre Gasly (FRA/RBR)

14. Sergio Perez (MEX/RAC)

15. Daniil Kvyat (RUS/STR)

16. Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/ALF)

17. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/REN)

18. Lance Stroll (CAN/RAC)

19. George Russell (GBR/WIL)

20. Robert Kubica (POL/WIL) AAP