Kimi Raikkonen continued his strong start to the season and highlighted Lotus’ position as front runners for this weekend by topping the time sheets in Friday’s Free Practice, ahead of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
It looks like being an extremely competitive weekend between the Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull teams, while Mercedes look to be struggling with tyre management.
With much of the afternoon being spent on longer runs and race simulations, the front-runners took their only medium tyre run in the opening half an hour of the afternoon. And it was Raikkonen who found the largest improvement switching from the hard compound. His long run on the medium was not only impressive in terms of speed but he was asked to keep going by his engineer, to see how far they could go on the tyre. He managed a 14 lap stint on the tyre with consistent lap times. This could prove decisive on Sunday afternoon.
The Red Bull duo each found around half a second in the switch from hard to medium, and Fernando Alonso in fourth found even less. Although, there was likely a change in fuel loads between the stints for both Lotus drivers as Romain Grosjean also improved by over 1.5 seconds.
Late in the session Raikkonen reverted back to the medium tyre, testing how far they could go in a race simulation. During the ten lap stint he showed very good consistency and gives the Enstone team a good indicator of how the first stint on Sunday should pan out.
Before the move to the medium tyres Alonso had been the pacesetter and set a very impressive pace on the hard tyre. His option tyre lap was ruined by traffic and he ended the day in fourth place.
However he had very strong long run pace on both the medium and hard tyres and looks like a real contender for the race.
Qualifying will be important, as Raikkonen outqualified him in China but Alonso was able to get ahead after a poor start for the Lotus driver.
He and team mate Massa worked systematically together, the only top team to get long run data from both tyres at the same time as Alonso and Massa back-to back tested the tyres in the second half of the session, both trying both tyres.
Sandwiched between the Ferrari pairing in 5th place was Paul Di Resta, who had another strong day behind the wheel of the Force India, finishing in the same position in both sessions. He ended the day 4/10ths from Raikkonen and the same margin ahead of team mate, Adrian Sutil.
Felipe Massa, after topping FP1, could not replicate his pace and seemed a few tenths off Alonso in both tyre conditions. He ended the day in sixth in a very close top ten. They were all covered by 8/10ths of a second.
Closing out the top ten were Romain Grosjean, Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Lewis Hamilton.
Grosjean is still struggling to match the pace of his team mate after receiving a new chassis for this Grand Prix, but he was less than a tenth of a second from fifth place.
For Mercedes, their expected struggles were proven when they were unable to make effective use of the option tyre. Last weeks pole position will seem a distant memory at present and this weekend could be a case of minimising their point loss to the teams ahead.
Similarly McLaren who once again struggled with their one lap pace. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez ended the day in eleventh and thirteenth place respectively and they will both be in a scrap for the top ten shoot out tomorrow.
Marussia’s Jules Bianchi was forced to sit out FP1 as development driver Rodolfo Gonzalez got a chance to get a run in the car. He ended FP2 behind team mate Max Chilton as he got back up to speed.
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX, Free Practice 2
1. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m34.154s 31
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m34.184s + 0.030s 26
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m34.282s + 0.128s 29
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m34.310s + 0.156s 28
5. Paul di Resta Force India 1m34.543s + 0.389s 35
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m34.552s + 0.398s 34
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m34.631s + 0.477s 33
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m34.666s + 0.512s 37
9. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m34.932s + 0.778s 33
10. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m34.976s + 0.822s 29
11. Jenson Button McLaren 1m35.356s + 1.202s 32
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m35.506s + 1.352s 36
13. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m35.5$9s + 1.435s 36
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m35.761s + 1.607s 33
15. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m36.133s + 1.979s 36
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m36.279s + 2.125s 33
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m36.579s + 2.425s 28
18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m36.616s + 2.462s 34
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1m37.061s + 2.907s 32
20. Max Chilton Marussia 1m37.313s + 3.159s 33
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m37.363s + 3.209s 29
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m37.970s + 3.816s 34