Leclerc set for penalty but Ferrari confident of step forward in Saudi Arabia
The Formula One season is only one race old and the question is already being asked if anybody can catch Red Bull. Charles Leclerc may already have abandoned that hope for this weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Red Bull coasted to a one-two at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, world champion Max Verstappen prevailing ahead of Sergio Perez to put their history of slow starts to bed in emphatic fashion.
Their superiority was hammered home by familiar troubles for Leclerc, who failed to finish the race due to engine trouble.
Ferrari replaced his control electronics ahead of the race, only to discover the new electronics were to blame for his retirement, meaning they would again need to be replaced ahead of Sunday's grand prix in Jeddah.
Only two sets of control electronics are permitted to be used in a season, and Ferrari being forced to put in a third set will see Leclerc take on a 10-place grid penalty.
Leclerc faces a huge challenge to get on the podium, but Ferrari are set to take updates to Saudi Arabia, with team principal Frederic Vasseur confident they can greatly improve on their efforts in Bahrain, where Carlos Sainz was a distant fourth
"We struggled a bit with the balance over the weekend, it means that we have mega room for improvements on this path with our package," Vasseur said.
"With what we had in Bahrain, I think we had a lot of room for improvement in terms of driveability. For sure we can't be satisfied with the situation, and I want to do a step forward.
"The characteristics of Jeddah are completely different compared to the previous one to Bahrain in terms of grip, in terms of rugosity and layout of the track, so it's completely different story.
"Already it will suit a little bit more to what we have today. And then we'll also bring some updates to Jeddah and I hope that we'll do a step forward."
Red Bull eye F1 first
Verstappen won from pole in Bahrain and, if Red Bull top the timesheets in Saudi Arabia and go on to win with either driver, they will make Formula One history.
No team has ever taken pole and won the race in each of the first two grands prix, but Red Bull appear perfectly equipped to change that with their seemingly sizeable race pace advantage over the field.
And they have recent history of triumphing on Saturday and Sunday at Jeddah. Perez qualified on pole last year before Verstappen prevailed in the race.
Alonso on brink of century
Aside from Red Bull, Aston Martin were the team on the receiving end of most praise in Bahrain as Fernando Alonso scored a podium on his debut with the team.
It was the two-time world champion's 99th in F1. Should he make it 100 in Saudi Arabia, he will join Lewis Hamilton (191), Michael Schumacher (155), Sebastian Vettel (122), Alain Prost (106) and Kimi Raikkonen (103) as the sixth man to achieve the feat.
Alonso is hopeful the car will continue to get better, saying: "Sure, we need to wait for Jeddah, Australia. They are very different tracks, so I'm curious to see if we can keep this form in different circuits.
"But, on the other hand, I think the car that we have now is just a very basic car that we launched and we start the season with this completely new concept.
"I think there is a lot more to come in terms of development with this project, so I'm optimistic for that."
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 18
3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 15
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 12
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 10
1. Red Bull 43
2. Aston Martin 23
3. Mercedes 16
4. Ferrari 12
5. Alfa Romeo 4