Sebastian Vettel hopes facial hair tribute to Nigel Mansell can inspire success in Bahrain

The Ferrari driver, who was quickest in practice in Sakhir, goes for pole position on Saturday in qualifying

Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel rests during the second practice session ahead of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital Manama, on March 29, 2019. The Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix will be held on March 31. / AFP / Andrej ISAKOVIC
Powered by automated translation

A moustachioed Sebastian Vettel is taking inspiration from Nigel Mansell as he plots his championship fightback against Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain.

Vettel has grown facial hair reminiscent of Mansell, the 1992 Formula One world champion.

"I like Nigel," said Vettel with a grin when asked if his new look was in tribute to Britain's gung-ho hero.

"He is a great person, and he was a lion in the car."

Two weeks ago in Melbourne, Ferrari's Vettel was more domestic cat than king of the jungle.

The form book from testing indicated the famous Italian team would lead the way at Albert Park.

Instead, they were subjected to a bruising defeat by Mercedes, with Vettel crossing the line fourth, a minute behind winner Valtteri Bottas.

An inquest behind the gates of Ferrari's famous Maranello base followed, and on the evidence of Friday's running, it appears to have discovered the necessary answers.

Under the lights of the Sakhir circuit, Vettel posted the night's fastest time, with an advantage of more than half a second over Hamilton, who finished third.

"From the team's point of view, I hope Melbourne was a one-off," added Vettel. "I drove a car in winter testing that I really liked and I didn't have much to moan or complain about, and we went to Australia and it wasn't there."

This is an important campaign for the four-time world champion, who was hired by Ferrari to end a title drought which stretches back to 2008.

At the conclusion of last year, Vettel's reputation was in tatters as he failed to live with the brilliance of Hamilton, and a series of championship-crushing mistakes ensued. Just as in 2017, the Mercedes star wrapped up the title with two rounds in his pocket.

"The points gap to Lewis was bigger than we hoped," added Vettel. "I got beaten by him and the team got beaten by Mercedes. Bruised? No, but it is not nice to finish second.

"I feel stronger now. I still see, despite the second half of the season going against how we hoped, that there were plenty of positives from last year.

"In Formula One, if you win, everything is fine, but if you come second you must have had a horrible ride. That's the echo you hear, but I don't see it that way. Last year, we had highlights and it takes a lot of effort to finish second even though I hate it."

On Sunday, it will be 215 long days since he last won a race, the Belgian Grand Prix in August. But Vettel has a fond association with this venue, having won four times in Sakhir, more than any other driver.

In contrast, Hamilton has not triumphed here for three years. That is hardly a crime, but given the Briton's impeccable high standards, it is a losing run he will be keen to end.