Sebastian Vettel says Ferrari’s half-second advantage over Mercedes came as a surprise during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix and despite storming to pole position the German driver carries concerns going into the race.

Vettel snatched pole position from Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen with his final Q3 lap of 1m 31.095 to edge out the Finnish rider by just 0.087s. The Italian manufacturer dominated during qualifying, while Mercedes suffered a relatively drop in one-lap pace, which saw Ferrari lockout the front row by half a second.

The four-time Formula 1 world champion says the performance difference to Mercedes in qualifying came as a shock but is wary of a repeat in Bahrain where its F1 title rivals stepped up in pace and a smart one-stop strategy to cause serious threats to Vettel’s victory.

“I think the first three races have been a bit different as the tracks are quite different to each other,” Vettel said. “To have that much of a gap is a surprise.

“I think it’s also a track where you need to get in and find that sweet spot and if you’re a little bit out then easily you drop a little bit of time.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow that gap disappears and it will be a very tight race. Obviously, I wouldn’t mind if it stays there but I think it will be a tight race amongst the top three teams and a long tough race.”

Vettel says he was content with his Ferrari set-up going into qualifying and made minimal adjustments between the final practice session preparing for qualifying to produce a new lap record at the Shanghai International Circuit for his 52nd career pole position in F1.

“I was happier today and it helps a little bit to focus on one lap if you get the FP3 session right and you get a better feeling for the car,” he said. “In between practice this morning and qualifying we didn’t do anything so I think the overnight changes that we did are working and made the car a little bit better.

“I was a little bit happier with the front end and overall so I hope we can carry that momentum and feeling into the race tomorrow.”

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