|© AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
Kimi Raikkonen showcased his championship credentials by clocking the fastest time in the second practice session for the Bahrain Grand Prix pipping the Red Bull duo.
With a time of 1 minute 34.154 seconds around the 5.4-kilometre Bahrain International Circuit, the Lotus driver was just three-hundredths faster than Mark Webber, during a stage when teams had switched over to the quicker medium compounds.
“It’s nice to be fastest but you never know what the others are doing; we just stick to our programme and don’t take too much notice of what else is happening," Raikkonen said. "I actually made a mistake through the final corners on my fastest lap, so there’s still more time to be found."
Defending champion Sebastian Vettel was third, a tenth behind Raikkonen’s benchmark time. The German was unhappy with his short stint and believed that qualifying will be close.
“Kimi looking very good on option long run. Consistently much quicker than Red Bull and Mercedes towards end. Could well stretch out a two stopper,” reckoned Marc Priestley, a former McLaren mechanic. "No major drop off for last 5 or 6 laps of 19 lap run on Raikkonen's car, pretty impressive.”
Fourth was Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso who was second in opening practice, shortly after which it had rained at the track but conditions were dry when the second 90-minute session began with track temperatures soaring to just over 40 degrees Celsius.
Paul di Resta was fifth in the Force India followed by Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, who is running a new chassis this weekend, in seventh, with several drivers struggling to find grip in the first half of the outing.
“Felipe Massa wins the award for the drifting competition,” quipped former Formula 1 driver and Sky Sports commentator Anthony Davidson referring to the sliding Ferrari which the Brazilian got under control.
Massa, who topped the charts in the first practice, had another big moment on the medium tyres in a later stint.
Half an hour into the running, Nico Rosberg complained over the radio that he had “way too much understeer”, a problem which had surfaced shortly before he had retired at the preceding Chinese Grand Prix.
The German finished ninth in the timesheets ahead of Adrian Sutil and Lewis Hamilton, who had a lock up early in the session at Turn 1 and then a few laps later had a little bit of slide during his initial run on the hard tyres.
Neither of the Mercedes drivers achieved a satisfactory balance which subsequently compromised long run pace in the afternoon.
"We haven’t yet found the sweet spot of the set-up and that was reflected in the timesheets," said Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff.
McLaren’s difficulties were evident, the latest setback for a team that has struggled to be competitive, with Jenson Button over a second off the pace in 11th while teammate Sergio Perez languished in 13th, 1.4 seconds slower than Raikkonen.
McLaren had told Sergio Perez over the radio that Red Bull was second faster than him during his long-run stint in the latter half of the session but clarified that it was a “reasonable pace” considering the difficult season it has had so far.
"Scoring points is a realistic ambition for us here in Bahrain,” Perez said pointing out that a clever strategy on Sunday could help the team attain its goals this weekend.
The heat means there was quite a lot of thermal degradation on the tyres which will make life for the drivers tricky in the race, although Australian Daniel Ricciardo wasn’t too troubled by it.
“I come from Perth, so I’ve been looking forward to some sun for a while now”, joked the Toro Rosso driver who was 14th.
Besides a few lock up and slides, there was a collision on the track as well.
Esteban Gutierrez punctured his left front tyre after the Mexican clipped the front wing of the Caterham of Charles Pic at a corner. The Frenchman was cruising at the time but tried to give way to the Sauber, which was forced to pit as a result of the contact.