Five-place grid penalty for Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain

Five-place grid penalty for Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain

Concluding back at the front and Sebastian Vettel's pole will certainly calm a few fears some had that Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton could dominate qualifying in 2018 after Australia.

It was feared he would be punished for an unsafe release - because his front right wheel was not attached properly - and given a grid penalty, but instead Ferrari were fined €5,000 (RM23,767).

The German made a mistake on his first attempt to set a time and was initially second behind Kimi Raikkonen, but he leapfrogged his team-mate at the chequered flag with a sensational lap. Despite making a small improvement, Vettel found 0.063s more on his own attempt to sneak ahead in the closing seconds.

"I was very happy with both laps in the end, and very happy with the result and the way the auto was handling and responding", he added.

"Far from ideal in the last run with the traffic, but what can I do?", Raikkonen said.

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.

In a further boost for Ferrari, the aging Kimi Raikkonen has looked sharp all weekend, leading the second and third practice.

The earlier session offered little insight into what might happen in Sunday's race given it took place in daylight, but Ricciardo proved strong late on to usurp Bottas and Raikkonen.

But he could only manage fourth, failing to improve his time on his final lap and leapfrogged by Bottas.

"It's very close and we have some work to do".

Behind the Ferraris and Mercedes it's Daniel Ricciardo for Red Bull, but team-mate Max Verstappen crashed out in Q1 and will start the race in 15th.

The Bahrain International Circuit stretches 3.3 miles, with its layout defined by four relatively long straights that should prove a good test of the power units.

Kevin Magnussen was just 29 thousandths of a second slower in seventh, with the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr sandwiching the Force India of Esteban Ocon in ninth.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly was ninth in his own Honda-powered Toro Rosso together with Fernando Alonso, a three-times victor at Bahrain, rounding out the best 10 in his own McLaren.

And the race, scheduled for Sunday, starts at twilight and finishes under lights in order to avoid most of the heat of the day.

Williams are in even more trouble - Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll were 18th and 20th respectively, a poor result for a once-great team that finished third in the championship as recently as 2015.