Ferrari fightback predicted among F1 taking points as season heads to Bahrain

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Following Valtteri Bottas’ surprise win in Melbourne, Formula One heads to Bahrain for round two of the championship.

Lewis Hamilton will be bidding to reduce the title deficit to his Mercedes team-mate, while Ferrari will hope to reverse their poor showing at Albert Park.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at five key talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.

WOLFF PREDICTS FERRARI FIGHTBACK

Contrary to the evidence provided by pre-season testing, Ferrari ended the first race not just slower than both Mercedes cars, but behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, too, with Sebastian Vettel fourth, nearly a minute behind Bottas.

Ferrari left Melbourne in shock, but after an investigation at their Maranello HQ, will arrive in Bahrain – a race Vettel has won for the last two years and a track which traditionally suits their car – keen to turn the championship on its head.

Despite wrapping up a team one-two in Australia, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is wary of Ferrari bouncing back with vengeance. “We have seen the potential of Ferrari’s package in Barcelona so we expect them to come back strong in Bahrain,” he said. “The fight has only just begun.”

CAN BOTTAS PROVE MELBOURNE WAS NOT A ONE-OFF?

bottas hamilton

Bottas bathed in the plaudits after his impressive showing in Melbourne, beating team-mate Hamilton to the flag by 20 seconds. But the Finn, who failed to win a single race in 2018, must now show that his strong performance at Albert Park was more than a one-off.

It is all very good getting the better of the tour de force that is Hamilton at one race, but it is a different feat to manage it over an entire campaign. How Bottas performs in Bahrain will provide a further indicator as to whether he is in this fight for the long haul.

FUTURE F1 BLUEPRINT PRESENTED TO TEAMS

On Tuesday, F1 bosses met in London with the sport’s 10 teams and its governing body, the FIA, to present its future vision. The Concorde Agreement, the terms which binds all the major players to the sport, expires in less than two years, and F1 needs to get all of the teams onside before a new agreement is reached.

Following owners Liberty Media’s instruction to keep the discussions in-house, details of the meeting were sparse. But F1 is a sport which likes to talk, and a clearer feel of how the London summit unfolded is likely to be made known when the paddock opens for business in Bahrain on Thursday.

NOWHERE TO HIDE FOR MCLAREN AT SECOND HOME RACE

Lando Norris delivered a fine lap on his debut to qualify eighth in Melbourne, but his race strategy saw the British teenager finish outside of the points.

With team-mate Carlos Sainz failing to finish, it added up to a rather underwhelming opening weekend to the season for McLaren.

Britain’s most successful team is owned by the Bahraini royal family. Their hospitality suite will be thronging with dignitaries in Bahrain, meaning they will be under pressure to deliver.

SCHUMACHER HANDED FERRARI AUDITION

Mick Schumacher is following in dad Michael's footsteps.

Mick Schumacher is following in dad Michael’s footsteps.

One of the sport’s biggest names will return to the track next week when Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-times world champion, Michael, will test for his father’s former team.

Schumacher Jnr, 20, who is also making his Formula Two (the feeder series to F1) debut this weekend in Bahrain, will drive for Ferrari and then Alfa Romeo at the Bahrain circuit next week. Barring a disaster, it will be another hurdle cleared on his now, seemingly inevitable path, to F1.

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Mick Schumacher to make F1 test debut for Ferrari in Bahrain

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Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-times world champion Michael, will make his official Formula One debut in a test for Ferrari next week.

The 20-year-old, who signed to the Ferrari academy earlier this year, will drive for the Italian team in Bahrain – on Tuesday, April 2 – before testing for Alfa Romeo at the same venue a day later.

Schumacher Jnr, who begins his Formula Two campaign – the feeder championship to F1 – at the Sakhir Circuit later this week, said: “I am obviously more than excited and would like to thank Ferrari for giving me this opportunity.

“I am really looking forward to what I’m sure will be a great experience.

“But for the moment, I am consciously putting all thoughts of the test to one side, because I am also very much looking forward to competing in my first F2 race and would like to focus a hundred per cent on the weekend to come.”

Schumacher Jnr’s participation in next week’s first in-season test will be seen as another major stride to following in his father’s footsteps.

Schumacher won five of his seven world titles racing for Ferrari at the turn of the century. He also won a record 91 grands prix.

The German, however, has not been seen in public since his dreadful skiing accident more than five years ago.

Ferrari also revealed that their young British driver, Callum Ilott, will be handed his F1 debut in a test with Alfa Romeo at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya in May.

Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto said: “We are firm believers in the value of the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA), as a high-level training programme for talented youngsters and the decision to give Charles Leclerc a race seat with our team is proof of that.

“Mick, who joined the FDA in January, and Callum, who has been with us since 2017, are definitely drivers on their way up and I believe that driving the SF90 in an official setting such as the tests in Bahrain and Barcelona can be very useful at this stage in their career.”

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Back to the factory for Lewis Hamilton in order to investigate Australia issues

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Lewis Hamilton is to return to the factory to help investigate performance issues in his Mercedes at the Australian Grand Prix.

The five-time world champion lit up Saturday’s qualifying session to take his 84th career pole but his team-mate Valtteri Bottas got the better start at Albert Park and cantered to the chequered flag

It was the fourth consecutive second-placed finish in Melbourne for Hamilton, who suffered damage to the floor of his W10 on lap four leading to a loss in downforce.

But the Briton said the “glass was half full” and the team had “positive things” to take from the race.

He said: “I’ll go back to Europe straight away and I’ll be back in the factory in the week and by the time I get there – I think it’s Wednesday or Thursday – I’ll have a much better understanding of the damage that was on the car, I’ll understand about the start and understand how to try and correct that for the next one.”

Bottas claimed his first win since the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and earned the newly reintroduced bonus point for the fastest lap on a dominant weekend for Mercedes.

The Finn was able to pass Hamilton ahead of the first corner and set about making the most of the clear track, while the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc finished fourth and fifth respectively and were almost a minute behind Bottas.

Hamilton was surprised by Ferrari’s struggles but expects the Italian team to quickly step their game up.

He added: “No-one was expecting to have a gap like that when we came into the weekend.

“What I was shown and led to believe was that, from the analysis we were given, that they were ahead and obviously that wasn’t the case during this weekend.

“I don’t know what their problem was but I am sure they will come back strongly in the next races, so we have to stay on our toes.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took the third place on the podium after passing Vettel and went on to push Hamilton for second place until the Dutchman took a trip over the grass with nine laps left.

It was the first podium spot for a Honda-powered car in just under 11 years, the last one coming at the British Grand Prix in 2008.

And Hamilton said it would be “awesome” to see how the competition between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull would play out in 2019.

“The Red Bulls are there with us and I think we are going to have a really, really great battle between the three of us,” he said.

The season continues in Bahrain in a fortnight’s time, and Hamilton said the preparations would start straight away.

When asked how he saw the season panning out, he said: “I’ve been here a long, long time and I’ve never known after the first race.

“Usually after the first four races you get a better idea of where we all stand. It could be like this for four races or it could be more scattered.

“I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t tell you, but I can assure you that we are going to be pushing onwards and upwards from here.”

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