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MANAMA (Reuters) - Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton expects resurgent Ferrari to be hard to beat in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel hopes to prove him right.
After the pair qualified on the front row on Saturday, with Hamilton on pole for the fourth race in succession for Mercedes, Vettel told reporters his Italian team had taken another important step.
"We are trying to push on all areas but for now I think we can be very, very happy with where we are," said the four-times champion, who has been on the podium in all three races for Ferrari since he left Red Bull.
"Today is the first time we were able to split them (the Mercedes drivers) in true dry conditions in qualifying, so very happy."
Hamilton's team mate Nico Rosberg qualified third, with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen fourth.
"I think in the race we are maybe a bit closer, so we will see what happens," Vettel added.
"We are progressing as a team. For this race we didn’t bring any updates in particular, so it’s really that the circuit is maybe a little bit better for us.
"And...continuously working with the car, getting on top of what to do with the car and learning how the changes are reacting on track. So, I think that’s the area where we are making most progress at the minute."
Hamilton, who has won two out of three races and leads Vettel by 13 points in the standings, will not be able to control the race as he did in China when he had Rosberg behind him.
All the talk before Bahrain was of a re-run of last year's race, a wheel-to-wheel battle between the Mercedes drivers under the floodlights.
It could turn out instead to be a repeat of last month's Malaysian Grand Prix where the front row was the same, and Rosberg also qualified third, but Vettel won with better tire management and strategy.
"We’ve gone over it tons of times already about what we have learned, but it doesn’t get us away from the fact that they are very quick this weekend," said Hamilton.
"They are going to be very hard to beat tomorrow, they have great race pace."
Vettel, sitting alongside in a news conference, could only agree.
"I hope he's right," the German said.
Editing by Ed Osmond