Pascal Wehrlein is quietly confident Manor could be a contender to reach Q2 on merit for the first time after showing positive pace during free practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Though Manor endured a difficult start to the season in Melbourne, the team is enjoying a more competitive turn this weekend, with Wehrlein finishing the sessions 17th and 19th quickest, but with apparent time in hand having declined to use the super-soft tyres.

Ending the day less than three seconds off the top spot - and just a second from the top ten -, Wehrlein feels the performance gain Manor would glean from the super-soft tyres would potentially haul the car up into a position that could see it challenging to make Q2.

"If you look at the gaps after FP2, if you take off the 0.5s-1s for the super soft tyre then we are somewhere in the mix but who knows? Q2 I think would be a very good step and we would be happy with that. I will try as hard as possible but I'm not sure if it will work out.

Indeed, Wehrlein says the competitiveness of the Mercedes-powered MRT05 in Bahrain is more akin to what he had anticipated pre-season having been off the pace in Australia.

"I was more surprised in Melbourne about the gap than now because Barcelona was very positive and the lap time in Barcelona was really good. So we expected to be competitive and in Melbourne we had a few problems and we were far at the back and I think now it's more where we should be."