Bahrain GP - Friday - Practice Session 1 Report

Sand Masters

Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean, Bahrain GP 2013

Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean, Bahrain GP 2013 

 © Active Pictures

From sprawling Shanghai the F1 circus headed for Bahrain and set up camp in the Sakhir circuit located in the desert sands outside of the capital city of Manama.

Ferrari teammates Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso were the masters of the desert as they set the fastest lap times in the first Free Practice session on Friday morning. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Sebastian Vettel grabbed the third and fourth spots respectively.

The ambient air temperature at the start of the session was degrees 89.6 Fahrenheit (degrees 32 Celsius), and the track temperature was degrees 102.2 Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius.)

Former Caterham driver Heikki Kovalainen was back at work with the team, which had asked him to evaluate the troublesome car and the chassis updates in the first practice session in Bahrain. The team needed an experienced driver, and its regular drivers Charles Pic and Guido van der Garde didn't fit the bill. "Kovy" took over the latter's car.

The other substitute driver in the session was pay driver Rodolfo Gonzalez who replaced Jules Bianchi in the Marussia. Alas, all Gonzalez got for his money was a gearbox problem and a total of seven laps.

Nobody seemed anxious even to do an installation lap on the dusty track. Originally Pirelli planned to run its soft and hard compound slick tires here. But the criticisms of the short-life soft tire in China led Pirelli to replace the soft with the medium compound in Bahrain. The hard compound was the tire of choice in FP1.

Ten minutes into the 90 minute session, Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had yet to go out for a single lap while the rest of the drivers had all done a single lap and had returned to their garages to wait. The plan was to use just one set of tires for the whole session, and nobody wanted to waste them on a slippery, green track.

Seventeen minutes had passed before something happened – Sergio Perez headed out in his McLaren. The young driver was under pressure after not performing well in China. Next out on track was Chinese Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and, finally, Hamilton and Rosberg, plus Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber.)

But it went almost quiet again as all of the drivers returned to the pits except Hulkenberg. Twenty three minutes into the session, the German became the first to set a lap time when he turned a 1:42.500. He lowered that to a 1:40.521.

Hulkenberg' teammate Esteban Gutierrez was the next to post a time – 1: 38.556. Team Sauber was testing new aero upgrades during this session.

Thirty minutes into the session, Kimi Raikkonen went to the top of the times with a 1:35.533 in his Lotus. A couple of minutes later, Perez moved into second with a 1:36.651. With just over one third of the session over, only four drivers had done a flying lap and set a time. Then Jenson Button (McLaren) joined the club, moving into second place with a 1:35.745. Perez improved his time to a 1:35.821, which was third best.

Thirty seven minutes into the session, Button clocked a 1:35.305 to take over the top spot. Raikkonen improved his time to a 1:25.345 and Adrian Sutil (Force India) was third with a 1:35.405.

Forty one minutes into the session, Sutil ran a 1:35.119 to become the first on the list while Button was now second with 1:35.229. Ten drivers had yet to set a time.

Forty four minutes into the session. Sebastian Vettel, who won here last year, became the first driver to break into the 1:34 range after turning a 1:34.978 in his Red Bull. Meanwhile, his teammate Mark Webber got to work. Fifty minutes into the session, Webber set a 1:35.101 to move onto second place. And Vettel lowered his time to a 1:34.790.

Ferrari teammates Alonso and Felipe Massa had yet to clock a timed lap at this stage.

Fifty three minutes into the session, Rosberg zoomed to the top of the timing screens with a 1:34.621. Then Alonso beat that with a 1:34.564.

Fifty eight minutes into the session, Massa finally set a lap time. His 1:43.897 put him into last place. His next lap was a more respectable 1:35.039 – fifth best.

The top six at the one hour mark were: Alonso, Rosberg, Vettel, Paul di Resta (Force India), Massa and Webber.

But Massa was not happy with fifth, and his time of 1:34.487 made him top dog with twenty seven minutes to go. That was .077 of a second quicker than Alonso.

As the session wound down, many of the drivers began running with heavier fuel loads and concentrating on long runs to gather data for the race. And everybody's tires were getting worn out, so lap times were dropping off into the 1:39/1:40 range.

The track action as frantic in the closing minutes with all but two or three drivers turning laps.

With 15 minutes to go, the top six were: Massa, Alonso, Rosberg, Vettel, di Resta and Button.

That order remained unchanged as the checkered flag ended FP1 in the desert sands of Bahrain. Webber, Sutil, Raikkonen and his teammate Romain Grosjean rounded out the top 10.


Follow grandprixdotcom on Twitter