Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were encouraged by how close Ferrari was to McLaren at the season-opening F1 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Leclerc qualified an impressive fourth in Bahrain, just a tenth shy of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

The Monegasque didn’t have the race pace to maintain fourth over Lando Norris and Sergio Perez, ultimately finishing sixth.

Carlos Sainz finished eighth on his Ferrari debut, just a second behind McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo

“It is encouraging because last year I remember that with that car I passed Charles fairly easy, so I remember how big the difference between the McLaren and Ferrari was and how close I was to overtaking Ricciardo at the end,” Sainz said.

“I think I had much better pace than Daniel there towards the end of the race, we were catching at more than half a second per lap, and there’s positive signs. There’s encouragement, there’s a big step compared to last year and now it’s a matter of keep refining the details, keep working hard back in Maranello and keep improving. 

“We’ve done certainly a very good step and now we want to take the next steps but as Mattia said this year is going to be more focused on next year. But I’m encouraged. Honestly I’m happy with what I’ve seen today, I’m happy with my feeling with the car to be a first race and I can see a positive start.”

Leclerc was knocked out in Q2 and finished tenth in last season’s Bahrain Grand Prix - a stark contrast to this year's Q3 appearance and top-six finish on race day.

“Yeah if I look at where we were last year at exactly the same place there has been a good progress,” Leclerc added.

“So surely we want to be fighting for the win very, very soon but realistically and honestly we’ve done a great job to catch that and now be closer to McLaren at least and fighting with them in the race, so let’s see in Imola.”