Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, left, of Britain steers his car ahead of Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

Bahrain - Lewis Hamilton will be out to secure maximum points, and equal a Formula One record, in Bahrain on Sunday after victory was plucked from his grasp in the Australian season-opener.

Mercedes' four times world champion has scored in his last 26 races, one short of Kimi Raikkonen’s unprecedented run of 27 with Lotus in 2012-13, and stood on the podium in 19 of them.

The 33-year-old Briton, who last drew a blank when he retired with a blown engine while leading the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, will also be looking to make a statement as he moves on from Melbourne.

Hamilton was on his way to a comfortable win from pole position at Albert Park when an ill-timed virtual safety car and a computer bug threw Mercedes’ strategy predictions off and handed victory to Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel instead.

"It feels like a dark cloud but it’s not," he told reporters after finishing second.

"We have a great car, we are still the world champions and with a couple of adjustments we can win the next race."

Hamilton has taken two of Mercedes's three wins from the last four years in Bahrain but Vettel and Ferrari broke the stranglehold last year when Bahrain followed China as third round of the season.

Mercedes is expecting another thriller under the floodlights.

"We saw in Melbourne that the Ferraris in particular were very quick, so I expect it to be a close battle," commented team boss Toto Wolff.

The circuit’s four long straights could allow Ferrari to edge closer but Vettel - set to start his 200th race - may need another dose of luck to celebrate an unprecedented fourth win in Bahrain.

Ferrari will also have to watch out for Red Bull, whose Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo set the fastest lap in Melbourne and piled the pressure on Raikkonen in his bid for a home podium.

"The track is one that I’ve always done well on,” said Ricciardo, whose lowest finish in Bahrain since he stepped up to Red Bull in 2014 is sixth. "So let’s hope it continues to be good to me."

Sunday will also set the stage for another hard-fought midfield battle.

McLaren will hope to win that one after ending its first race with new engine partner Renault solidly in the points.

But McLaren will have to overcome a Haas team whose Ferrari-powered car drew intense scrutiny after they stunned rivals with their pace in the opener.

The US-owned team will be hoping to put behind them the disappointment of having both drivers retire in Melbourne after botched pitstops while on course for a best-ever result.

Off the track, the big story will be a presentation to teams by commercial rights holder Liberty Media and governing FIA of how they see the future unfolding after current agreements expire at the end of 2020.

New engine regulations are a key part of that, with the focus also on Ferrari after the Italian team threatened to walk away from Formula One if they do not like what is being proposed. 

Bahrain Grand Prix Statistics:

Lap distance: 5.412km. 

Total distance: 308.238km (57 laps)

2017 pole: Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes. 1m28.769s

2017 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari.

Race lap record: 1:31.447. Pedro de la Rosa (Spain), McLaren, 2005.

Start time: 17h00 (SA time)

Race wins

Hamilton has 62 victories from 209 races and is second in the all-time list behind seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher (91). Vettel has 48.

Ferrari has won 230 races since 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 76 and Red Bull 55. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.

Pole position

Hamilton has a record 73 career poles. Vettel has 50.

Max Verstappen, at 20 years old, can become the youngest ever pole sitter this season. The current youngest is Vettel, who did it at the age of 21.

Podium

Hamilton has 118 career podiums and is second on the all-time list behind Schumacher (155). Vettel has 100, Raikkonen 92.

Points

Hamilton now has 26 scoring finishes in a row and can equal Kimi Raikkonen's all-time record of 27.

Four drivers on the grid have yet to score points in their F1 careers: Rookies Charles Leclerc (Sauber) and Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) and the Toro Rosso pair of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly.

Sauber's Marcus Ericsson last scored a point in 2015.

Bahrain

Vettel and McLaren's Fernando Alonso have won three times in Bahrain, Hamilton twice.

This year's race is the 14th edition. The grand prix was first held in 2004 and not run in 2011 due to civil unrest. It switched to a floodlit event in 2014.

The driver on pole in Bahrain has been the winner in five of the 13 races to date. It has never been won by anyone starting below the front two rows.

Eleven out of 13 winners have been from the team that ended up winning the constructors' title that season. The exceptions were Alonso for Ferrari in 2010 and Vettel in 2017.

Milestone

In winning in Australia, Vettel became only the third driver to lead 3000 laps in his career. The others are Schumacher and Hamilton. He also took his 100th podium.

Vettel is set to make his 200th start (from 201 races).