Sebastian Vettel, left, and Lewis Hamilton on the podium at Shanghai after the Chinese Grand Prix. File photo: Romain Pilipey / EPA

Sakhir, Bahrain - Sebastian Vettel could make the most of warm temperatures on Sunday in Bahrain to gain sole possession of the Formula One championship lead again in what promises an exciting title duel with Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari's Vettel won the season-opener in warm Australia from Hamilton while the Mercedes driver turned the tide in cooler China to beat the German for first place.

As a result, the two are tied at the top of the standings with 43 points, and each man has also won twice on the 5.412km Bahrain International Circuit where temperatures of around 30 degrees are expected for the night race.

Vettel, then at Red Bull, went on to lift the trophy in his winning years 2012 and 2013, and so did Hamilton in 2014 and 2015.

"If we can fight with Mercedes also in Bahrain that will be again good news," Vettel said after the Shanghai race, vowing that "we can still improve."

It was Hamilton who mentioned the weather when he told British broadcaster Channel 4: "So far the only info I have is that Melbourne was warm, and being on a hotter track Ferrari was stronger."

Three-times champion Hamilton also reiterated that he enjoys the duel with the four-times champion Vettel, in sharp contrast to his difficult relationship with now retired reigning champion and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.

"It's going to be one of the closest, if not the closest, fights I've experienced. I'm looking forward to the battle," Hamilton said.

"For me what's so exciting is knowing that I'm fighting against such a great driver. Ferrari are at their best, I think we are at our best, Sebastian's at his best and I feel I'm at my best."

'Small margins'

For Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff, who became a father for the first time on Monday, "small margins" will make the difference in the season.

"We need to - and we will - keep working with everything we have got to develop our car, correct our errors and continue improving. Our mindset is that of the underdog - not the champion. And the fight has just begun," he said.

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said "we proved in China that we have a strong car; now all the team is already focused on the next race in Bahrain."

Vettel will also want to erase the bad memories of 2016 in Bahrain where his Ferrari stopped on the warm-up lap with an engine failure.

Also out with something to prove are their Finnish team-mates Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari and Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, with Raikkonen having scored six podiums in Bahrain but never a win.

'In a lonely place'

Another team hoping for better results is Red Bull, too far behind Mercedes and Ferrari but also ahead of everybody else early in the season.

Dutch teenager Max Verstappen made plenty of headlines in China when he roared from 16th on the grid to seventh after the first lap en route to third place on the podium.

"I think at the moment we're a bit in a lonely competition because in front of us they are too quick and behind us they are too slow," Verstappen said.

"We are working really hard and trying to close the gap but it's not that easy. But we'll keep pushing hard."

German driver Pascal Wehrlein is meanwhile set to make his season debut for Sauber after missing the first two races because he had to regain his fitness after a crash in the Race of Champions in January.


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