Ferrari continued their excellent form in the opening practice session of the Bahrain Grand Prix as Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso finished first and second on Friday morning. The Scuderia claimed their first victory for nine months when Alonso took the chequered flag in Shanghai on Sunday and the early signs are that a repeat could be possible at Sakhir.
After the customary half-hour lull after the installation laps, Sauber were the first to send their drivers out to complete some extended running. Both Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez were well off the pace though as shown when Kimi Raikkonen entered the fray, setting a 1:35.533 on his first flying lap.
The McLarens were the first to threaten Raikkonen’s time with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez slotting in behind the Lotus before a 1:35.305 saw Button hit the front with fifty minutes remaining. The Briton would soon be usurped by Adrian Sutil but it wasn’t until Sebastian Vettel ventured out that we saw the first sub-1:35s lap. The world champion improved again to lead a Red Bull 1-2 at the midway point but Nico Rosberg would launch Mercedes to the top of the timesheets with a 1:34.621.
Unsurprisingly the top teams were very closely matched and when Fernando Alonso hit the front in the Ferrari, he was still only a fraction ahead of Rosberg’s Mercedes, but the honours would ultimately go to Massa in the sister F138 on a 1:34.487. Alonso and Rosberg completed a top three covered by a tenth of a second with Vettel fourth ahead of the impressive Paul Di Resta while Jenson Button managed to get a quick enough lap out of his used hard tyres to leapfrog Mark Webber and Adrian Sutil back into sixth. The Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top ten with the latter suffering from a KERS problem during the morning session.
Sergio Perez was eleventh in the second McLaren, still finding himself half a second shy of teammate Button, while Valtteri Bottas took a solid twelfth for Williams ahead of Lewis Hamilton who finished thirteenth after an experimental session in the Mercedes.
Caterham will be happier than most with their start to the weekend with Charles Pic and the returning Heikki Kovalainen outpacing the Marussias. Max Chilton was a full second adrift in the quickest MR02 although he did finish well ahead of Rodolfo Gonzalez as the Venezuelan got his chance on a Grand Prix Friday for the first time.