Bahrain GP: Ferrari's moment of truth as they bid to turn the tide
The Ferrari alarm bells will be ringing if Mercedes leave Bahrain with the fastest car. It's crunch time. Watch Bahrain GP live on Sky F1
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 28/03/19 2:36pm
We're only one race into the F1 2019 season and Ferrari are already facing a critical weekend at the Bahrain GP.
If the Scuderia can right the wrongs of Melbourne and prove their poor form was a one-off, the pre-season confidence will be restored and they are arguably the title favourites again. But should Mercedes win, there will already be serious cause for concern at Maranello.
Get ready for the duel in the desert. It could be a defining race.
What went wrong in Australia?
Even when considering Mercedes' most optimistic estimations heading into the season-opener, they were just behind a Ferrari team that flew out of the blocks with a near-flawless winter testing.
The end result in Australia? A seven-tenths advantage for the Silver Arrows in qualifying, and a second-a-lap buffer come Sunday. Nobody was expecting that.
Were Mercedes so strong, or Ferrari so weak?
"We were surprised that we had such a good pace, and we were surprised that they didn't have any pace at all," admitted Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. "The answer is probably in the middle."
What was most surprising was just how many problems Ferrari ran into with their smooth and seemingly well-rounded SF90.
The team were losing time through the low, medium and high-speed corners to their rivals (ranking sixth on the grid through the medium-speed), and perhaps more worryingly, both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc finished in the bottom four of the speed traps. In fact, all four at the bottom of that list were Ferrari-powered cars.
"The car looked comfortable but slow, whereas the Mercedes looked edgy but fast," noted Sky F1's Martin Brundle.
When's the Bahrain GP on Sky?
When and how to watch our exclusively live coverage of the Bahrain GP this weekend
There are theories that Ferrari had power unit issues in Melbourne, and that the team were turning the engine down after encountering a few issues in the second week of testing. Team boss Mattia Binotto, however, put the deficits - through corners and on the straights - down to an overall lack of balance, pointing to a wrong setup on Ferrari's behalf.
"Of course we will analyse everything including the comparison with the cars of the other teams," he said. "But in general we lacked the balance, and this, of course, affects the speed at the exit of the corners."
Wolff, meanwhile, added: "It's difficult to find the right setup for these new cars. Ferrari definitely took a wrong turn but there is no fundamental problem."
Why are Ferrari expected to bounce back?
There's a reason Ferrari were such heavy favourites following the two weeks in Barcelona.
On a track which features all types of different corners and easily highlights the strengths, and weaknesses, of a teams' aerodynamic package, Ferrari appeared all-but-faultless, 20 seconds ahead of Mercedes on race pace and only matched over one lap in the dying embers of testing.
And Bahrain's Sakhir circuit - which was also considered for the pre-season tests for the same reasons as Barcelona - is a much-more comparable reference than Australia's curious and quirky Albert Park, where Ferrari have often struggled.
Don't forget: last year Lewis Hamilton took pole by seven tenths and should have easily won the race in Australia, but the Ferraris locked out the front row in Bahrain and dominated the opening races of the season.
It would also be shocking to see Ferrari make the same mistakes again in terms of their setup.
"One thing for certain is that [Australia] is not the real potential of our car," explained Binotto. "In Bahrain, we expect to see the effect of corrections we have made."
Vettel continued: "I'm sure we will find something because we know the car is better than what we've seen."
Mercedes are braced for a battle in Bahrain.
"After the Barcelona test, we felt that we were the challengers," said Wolff. "Whatever the Melbourne result says, our mindset hasn't changed since then.
"One race doesn't determine the pecking order for the rest of the season."
It's not time to panic yet at Ferrari, but no team had a more surprising and disappointing weekend in Australia - and no team needs a strong weekend more than the Scuderia in Bahrain. It's crunch time.
What else to look out for in Bahrain
- Will Red Bull, whose new engine suppliers Honda powered Toro Rosso to fourth place here last year, also be contenders after a promising Melbourne debut?
- Can Valtteri Bottas continue his storming start to the season and beat Hamilton again?
- Are Haas the pick of the midfield, or will Renault - bringing upgrades to Bahrain - bounce back? And keep an eye on Daniel Ricciardo.
- It also wouldn't be surprising to see any one of McLaren, Racing Point, Toro Rosso or Alfa Romeo lead the chasing pack...
- This is the first big test for the new-for-2019 aerodynamic regulations. There were almost five times as many overtakes in Melbourne as there were last year, so can Bahrain's racing-friendly circuit deliver?
How to watch it all on Sky F1
Friday, March 29
8.25am: Formula 2 Practice LIVE!
10.45am: Bahrain GP, Practice One Build-up (Simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
11am: Bahrain GP, Practice One LIVE! (Simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
1.45pm: Formula 2 Qualifying LIVE!
2.45pm: Bahrain GP: Practice Two Build-up (Simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
3pm: Bahrain GP: Practice Two LIVE! (Simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
5pm: Bahrain GP: The Story So Far LIVE!
Saturday, March 30
10am: Formula 2 Race One LIVE!
11.45am: Bahrain GP Practice Three Build-up
12pm: Bahrain GP Practice Three LIVE!
1.10pm: Paddock Walkabout LIVE!
2pm: Bahrain GP Qualifying Build-up (Simulcast on Sky One)
3pm: Bahrain GP Qualifying LIVE! (Simulcast on Sky One)
4.30pm: The F1 Show LIVE!
Sunday, March 31
12.10pm: Formula 2 Race Two LIVE!
2pm: The F1 Show Repeat (Simulcast on Sky One)
2.30pm: Bahrain GP Pit Lane LIVE! (Simulcast on Sky One)
3.30pm: Bahrain GP On The Grid LIVE! (Simulcast on Sky One)
4.10pm: THE BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX LIVE! (Simulcast on Sky One)
6pm: Bahrain GP Paddock LIVE! (Simulcast on Sky One)
7pm: Bahrain GP Race Replay
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