Mercedes eye Ferrari challenge in Bahrain

Mercedes eye Ferrari challenge in Bahrain
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Published March 31st, 2016 - 14:51 GMT via SyndiGate.info

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Mercedes AMG Petronas British driver Lewis Hamilton (C) hold his winners trophy as he stands on the podium after winning the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, ahead of Scuderia Ferrari Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen (L) in second place and Mercedes AMG Petronas German driver Nico Rosberg (R) in third at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital, Manama, on April 19, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MARWAN NAAMANI
MARWAN NAAMANI / AFP
Mercedes AMG Petronas British driver Lewis Hamilton (C) hold his winners trophy as he stands on the podium after winning the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, ahead of Scuderia Ferrari Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen (L) in second place and Mercedes AMG Petronas German driver Nico Rosberg (R) in third at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital, Manama, on April 19, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MARWAN NAAMANI MARWAN NAAMANI / AFP

Formula One heads to Bahrain this weekend with Mercedes and Ferrari expected to challenge for the win amid further complaints over the qualifying system.

Sakhir, Bahrain (dpa) - Mercedes managed a one-two through Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in the Formula One season-opener but both drivers are expecting a strong challenge from Ferrari at Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

And the sport is prepared for further controversy regarding the qualifying system which ended in an empty-track farce when it was first presented to the public two weeks ago.

"I'm excited at the thought of more races like Melbourne (in the Australian Grand Prix)," world champion Lewis Hamilton said.

"There are going to be weekends where we're a few seconds up the road from Ferrari, races where it's wheel to wheel and races where they might be ahead. We really don't know - and that's exciting."

In addition to the threat from the Italian team's Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton is also looking to end a four-race losing streak to team-mate Rosberg dating back to last season.

Hamilton has won the last two floodlit grands prix around the 5.412-kilometre track in Sakhir but Rosberg, chasing his maiden world title, is currently the man in form.

"We've stepped up our game once again with a fantastic car," he said. "But Ferrari were a real threat all weekend in Melbourne and it's clear that we've got a big battle on our hands, so we have to keep pushing very hard.

"It was great to win the first race - but the aim is to come out on top at every step of the way this season, starting this weekend. There's a long way to go."

Vettel finished third in Australia but is aware mere podium finishes will not suffice in his bid to become five-time world champion and secure a first title with Ferrari.

"Step for step we're trying to close the gap," Vettel, who won in Bahrain 2012 and 2013, said. "Last year we were quite strong, the car this year is stronger still."

McLaren's Fernando Alonso has been cleared to race after his horror crash in Melbourne and hopes to build on a decent weekend after his team endured a disastrous 2015.

"I've spent some time resting and I can't wait to get back in the car," Alonso said. "Although on paper Melbourne wasn't a great race for us, before the crash I'd been having some good battles and the car felt pretty promising, so I hope in Bahrain we can experience more of the same."

All teams will have to deal with the new elimination style qualifying on Saturday, despite almost universal agreement the idea failed spectacularly in Australia, as the suggestion to return to the old system was not approved.

With insufficient time to complete laps, many drivers sat out the final moments of Q3 to protect engines and tires, leaving fans watching an empty circuit at Albert Park.

"We haven't found the right format with this change and it's hard to see how it might be more entertaining for the fans this weekend in Bahrain," Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said.

"The sport is under scrutiny on this matter, so careful thought is required in order to make coordinated, intelligent steps forward from the position we are in right now.

"The fans want close racing, in a format they can understand, between the best drivers and cars in the world - in that order. We should be capable of delivering that to the people in the grandstands and watching around the world."

© 2015 dpa GmbH

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