Sebastian Vettel says the gap of 0.478s to pole position was "a lot more" than he expected in Bahrain, where Mercedes locked out the front row for the first time in 2017.
Despite being just 0.061s off the Mercedes drivers' identical lap times in Q2, Vettel and Ferrari's challenge vanished in the top-ten shootout. Instead the German had to settle for third position, where he hopes he can turn Ferrari's strong long-run pace into a challenge for the win on Sunday.
When asked if he had an explanation for the gap, he said: "No not really. I haven't seen where we lost most of the time but I think a little bit spread everywhere but I think sector one and sector three stood out. Sector two wasn't too bad. There's a bit more straights in sector one than three.
"I don't know if they had an update for here which allowed them to push harder but it seems that we lost a little bit of time everywhere. Maybe a little bit more than usual down the straights. I think for tomorrow the most important thing is that the car felt good today. I think we should be closer. Hopefully it's going to be a tight race and then we see."
Vettel admits he had had gone into Q3 optimistic he could challenge for at least a spot on the front row after seeing how close he had been to the Silver Arrows cars in the middle qualifying session.
"Q2 I thought it would be tight. I was very happy to go into Q3, and I was very happy with my first lap, I crossed the line, looked up, and then saw both of them ahead! When I got the time I was a bit down to be honest, because four-tenths was a lot more than I expected, also given how good the lap felt.
"Then on the next run I tried a little bit too hard probably everywhere but I had nothing to lose. I was quite safe to the cars behind, I was confident, the car felt good so I tried a bit harder. Didn't work, went slightly slower. Obviously if a tenth quicker it's not enough, so I try to do it a bit more. Hopefully we can do a bit more tomorrow."