Sebastian Vettel on Saturday said it was a "big surprise" to head qualifying for the Bahrain grand prix.

Sebastian Vettel on Saturday said it was a "big surprise" to head qualifying for the Bahrain grand prix.

The German's Red Bull was in front of the two Ferraris in the decisive and newly low-fuel 'Q3' session, with the returning Felipe Massa four tenths quicker than his new teammate Fernando Alonso.

The first McLaren was Lewis Hamilton in fourth, a few tenths quicker than reigning world champion Jenson Button but a worrying 1.1 seconds from Vettel's pole.

"I was surprised with that result. We don't have the same pace as Red Bull and Ferrari. It's downforce -- we are weak in the middle section where we lose about a second," Hamilton told the BBC.

Fifth place completed Nico Rosberg's clean-sweep of being quicker than Michael Schumacher so far this weekend, with the 41-year-old returning to F1 after three years with seventh on the grid for Mercedes, behind Webber.

Further back, F1's three new teams dominated the stragglers in the 'Q1' session, with Timo Glock winning the battle to be the best of the newcomers for Virgin.

A handful of seconds behind that came the hapless HRT outfit, with Karun Chandhok bringing up the rear after finally getting at the wheel of a functioning single seater.

"We just wanted to check if all the gears went up and down. There are so many things we can improve, I'm not even comfortable in the seat," said the Indian rookie.

"These are all things we should have done two months ago."

His quicker teammate Bruno Senna said just getting his virginal car through all the practice sessions is a "big victory".

"With more practice we will get better and I am sure we will be a lot closer to the other new teams," said the nephew of the great Ayrton Senna.

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Vettel takes pole in Bahrain, says it is 'big surprise'