Ferrari dominate as Charles Leclerc takes first pole position for Bahrain Grand Prix

Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel (L), Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc (C) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) pose for a photograph after the qualifying session ahead of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit. (AFP)
Updated 31 March 2019

Ferrari dominate as Charles Leclerc takes first pole position for Bahrain Grand Prix

SAKHIR, London: Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc confirmed he is to be reckoned with by taking his first career pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday.
Leclerc topped all three sections of qualifying, having already been quickest in two of the three practice sessions.
“The car was amazing,” Leclerc said. “A lot of emotions, I’m trying to stay as cool as possible.”
Ferrari secured a 1-2 on the grid as four-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel qualified in second place. Although Vettel was later summoned to stewards for driving unnecessarily slowly on an in lap during qualifying, no action was taken against him.
Lewis Hamilton was third, followed by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified fifth followed by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.
Leclerc’s achievement earned him praise from Prince Albert of Monaco, who first met Leclerc when he was 12 in the royal palace. Prince Albert directly contacted Leclerc to offer his congratulations, express his pride in Leclerc, and wish him luck for the race, the Principality’s press department told The Associated Press when contacted for comment.
It’s hard to be more Monegasque than Leclerc, whose apartment is near the Monaco GP’s race start-finish line. As a youth, he swam in the swimming pool next to the glittering harbor, the focal point of the track.
At 21 years and five months, Leclerc became the second youngest pole-sitter behind Vettel — slightly younger at 21 years, 72 days old in 2008 when he qualified first for the Italian GP when driving for Toro Rosso.With his multiple titles and 52 race wins, Vettel is the senior driver at Ferrari, on paper at least.
But he has finished second in the title race to Hamilton in the past two seasons and Ferrari is not imposing seniority on Leclerc in its quest to win a first drivers’ title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.
Therefore Leclerc is free to race against Vettel providing there is not too much risk or carelessness which could cost Ferrari valuable points as the proud Italian manufacturer seeks a first constructors’ championship since 2008.
“I will do everything to keep my first place,” a determined Leclerc said, before adding cautiously. “But, obviously, we’re a team as well.”
After the disappointment of the season-opening Australian GP two weeks ago, Ferrari has looked ominous here with the drivers finishing 1-2 in all three practices and carrying that over into qualifying.
“We’re both much happier with the car this weekend. The team has done very, very well,” Vettel said. “We proved today we are capable of fighting from the front.”
Leclerc carried the day, even surpassing his own leading time on his last lap to set a new record in Bahrain of 1 minute, 27.866 seconds on the 5.4-kilometer (3.3-mile) circuit — beating Vettel by around 0.3 seconds.
“Not exactly my day, but that’s how it goes,” said Vettel, who locked his tires a couple of times in qualifying. “It was not ideal for me but congratulations to him.”
Leclerc is well poised for the first win of a career progressing as quickly and smoothly as his driving . He impressed last year with the Alfa Romeo Sauber team in his debut season, with 10 top-10 finishes and a best result of sixth in one of the grid’s least competitive cars.
Qualifying started at 6 p.m. local time (1500 GMT) and mirrored cool race conditions for Sunday evening’s race, which finishes with floodlights illuminating the desert track.
Bottas won in Australia ahead of Hamilton , where Vettel finished fourth and Leclerc fifth.
Vettel has won the past two Bahrain GPs driving for Ferrari and a record four overall, including two during his run of four straight F1 titles with Red Bull from 2010-13.
Hamilton’s last win here was in 2015 from pole position for Mercedes.
“This is generally a weak circuit for me,” said five-time F1 champion Hamilton, whose 73 wins puts him second behind Michael Schumacher’s 91. “The Ferraris have shown incredible pace, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be beat.”
Qualifying is split into three sections, with five drivers eliminated from Q1 and Q2 to leave 10 fighting for pole in Q3.
Hamilton set the quickest time but Leclerc beat it, and then he did even better.


Pakistan set to unleash 16-year-old Naseem Shah on Australia

Updated 20 November 2019

Pakistan set to unleash 16-year-old Naseem Shah on Australia

  • Naseem got plenty of attention in a tour game in Perth last week
  • Five former Pakistan players have made test debuts at a younger age than Naseem

BRISBANE, Australia: Sixteen-year-old Naseem Shah is ready to become the youngest test cricketer ever to play on Australian soil, with Pakistan skipper Azhar Ali confident the young paceman is among a group of bowlers who can help end a long winless streak Down Under.
Naseem, born on Feb. 15, 2003, got plenty of attention in a tour game in Perth last week not only because he tested the resolve of some experienced international batsmen, but also because it came soon after the death of his mother back in Pakistan.
Flight logistics and religious customs meant he couldn’t make it home in time for the funeral, so he stayed in Australia and skipped the first innings of the drawn tour game against Australia A before returning with a fiery eight overs in the second innings that netted 1-21, including the wicket of test opener Marcus Harris. It set him up for a test debut in the two-match test series.
“Obviously, it was a hard time for him but he coped with it and he came out and bowled the very next day, which is very heartening,” Azhar said Wednesday, on the eve of the first test at the Gabba. “We will definitely be looking to play him. He’s bowling really well.”
Azhar has played with Naseem at first-class level and thinks the young speedster has the fitness and the mental attitude to cope in the test arena. And he’s not concerned about the home team’s daunting record at the Gabba, where Australia is unbeaten since 1988.
“Not many players can reach (test) standard so early, but there are exceptions and he’s one of them,” Azhar said. “When I saw him first, I was so surprised. The control he had, the pace he had, and the temperament and the composure when he bowls is so exciting to see.”
Five former Pakistan players have made test debuts at a younger age than Naseem, including fast bowler Aaqib Javed, who was 16 years, 189 days when he played New Zealand in 1989, and Azhar said there’s no reason to hold players back based only on their age.
“The good thing about (Naseem) is he is very fit. I have no doubts about his fitness and his bowling skill,” Azhar said, reflecting his general confidence in a Pakistan team that is in a rebuilding phase and not expected to be overawed by Australia’s record at the Gabba. Pakistan hasn’t won a test series in Australia, and hasn’t won a test match here since 1995.
“We go in here with a lot of confidence. We have the talent to do well here. We’re very confident that if we execute our skills ... (we can) beat Australia. To do that, I think we have to keep believing and also play with no fear.”
Along with veteran paceman Mohammad Abbas, a pair of 19-year-old pacemen are also in selection calculations, with left-armer Shaheen Shah Afridi taking 12 wickets in his three tests to date and Muhammad Musa yet to make his debut.
While most of the selection focus has been on the fast bowlers, 33-year-old wrist spinner Yasir Shah is likely to play an influential role in the series. He struggled on his last tour to Australia in 2016, but returns with more than 200 test wickets and as a far better settled bowler.
The Australians will be playing a test series for the first time since retaining the Ashes in England, where opening batsman David Warner averaged just 9.5 in the series. He and Steve Smith were making their test match returns from one-year ban following a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in 2018 and had contrasting series, with Smith topping the scoring and holding many innings together for Australia.
Warner will be combining with a recalled Joe Burns at the top of a reshuffled batting order, and Australia skipper Tim Paine is confident the veteran opener will be back in scoring form.
“Just watching him the last few days, he looks like he’s back to his best, the ball’s making a different sound off his bat again,” he said. “But the most pleasing thing about Davey was during the Ashes when he was in the worst form of his career he didn’t change a bit, and a lot of players would.
Paine said Mitchell Starc was back approaching top form and he expected the left-arm paceman to play a leading role against Pakistan after missing selection for all but one of the Ashes series tests in England.
Starc and fellow pacemen Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood will join spinner Nathan Lyon in a pace attack containing plenty of success in local conditions.