It promises to be a thrillingly tight battle between Red Bull, Lotus and Ferrari to gain superiority in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It was Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus that got the upper hand in Friday afternoon’s practice session, but just 0.03 seconds separated the Finn from Red Bull’s Mark Webber. The second Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel was third, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso fourth, just 0.156s slower than Raikkonen.
Those results came after Ferrari had recorded the two quickest times in the morning, with Felipe Massa leading the way as the top three teams went back and forth on the timing sheets throughout the day.
The best of the rest was the impressive Force India team as Paul di Resta was fifth fastest in the second session. The Mercedes were further back, with Nico Rosberg eighth and Lewis Hamilton 10th.
But, with the top teams so closely matched and different strategies being utilized in practice, Raikkonen wasn’t getting carried away with his performance.
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"It's nice to be fastest but you never know what the others are doing; we just stick to our program and don't take too much notice of what else is happening,” he said, according to Formula One’s official Web site.
“It wasn't a bad start today; things aren't exactly where we want them but we're reasonably fast, so let's see what we can do from here,” he added.
Vettel expects a tight battle to claim pole position in qualifying on Saturday and feels that tires could be a crucial factor throughout the weekend.
“It’s pretty close,” he said. “If you look at the opposition then Ferrari and Lotus were strong today and I think it will be close in qualifying. It’s important to work with the tires around the track.
“I wasn’t so happy with my short runs today -- but that’s why we have the Friday practice sessions I guess; I was happier with the longer runs. The tires still seem to be the dominating factor. The car seems quick, so we have to make sure we use that and then we should be on the right page.”
Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has insisted that there is no reason for the race weekend not to go ahead despite a week of protests in Bahrain ahead of the Grand Prix and reports of increased security. A similar situation arose last year when the race was initially cancelled due to pro-democracy protests in the Gulf kingdom.
Where to watch: Qualifying for the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix will get underway at 7 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network with a live stream available on NBCSports.com.