Lotus’ Raikkonen impresses in Bahrain

THE ICE MAN COMETH::The track temperature soared to 38°C, but Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen kept his cool to outpace Red Bull duo Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel

AFP and reuters, MANAMA

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 - Page 20

Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen topped the times for Lotus in yesterday afternoon’s second free practice session for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Driving with typical aggression and aplomb, the “Ice Man” clocked a best time of 1 minute, 34.154 seconds on his medium tires midway through the 90 minutes to outpace nearest rival Australian Mark Webber of Red Bull by 0.03 seconds.

Webber, preparing for his 200th Formula One race tomorrow, clocked 1:34.184 to finish ahead of his third placed teammate defending triple champion German Sebastian Vettel by almost 1/10th of a second.

After the agony and angst of their early-season intra-team problems — triggered by the ruthless Vettel’s decision to ignore team orders and snatch victory from Webber in Malaysia — the Australian demonstrated that he has no intention of doing anything other than racing to win.

To achieve that, however, he may have to overcome an expected strong challenge from in-form Ferrari.

Two-time champion and winner of Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix Spaniard Fernando Alonso was fourth for the “scarlet scuderia” ahead of Briton Paul di Resta of Force India, Brazilian Felipe Massa — who had been quickest in the morning’s opening session — and Frenchman Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus.

German Nico Rosberg was eighth for Mercedes ahead of compatriot Adrian Sutil in the second Force India car and Briton Lewis Hamilton, in the second Mercedes.

Britain’s Jenson Button, seeking to close the performance gap to the leaders in his improving McLaren, was unable to rise beyond 11th, a full 1.2 seconds slower than Raikkonen on another hot and testing day at the Sakhir circuit, 25km into the desert from Manama.

Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen, dropped by Caterham at the end of last season, made his return to the team as a reserve driver and lapped 20th of the 22 drivers in the first practice.

Another reserve, Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez, made his first Friday appearance for Marussia in place of Jules Bianchi, but completed only seven laps due to a gearbox problem

The track temperature was 38°C and the air temperature a relatively moderate 33°C on the circuit — slightly cooler and more comfortable conditions than the previous day.

Opposition groups demanding more political freedoms in the Gulf kingdom had announced plans to protest as practice got under way and after clashes between radical groups and police overnight.

However, there was no evidence of unrest in and around the track.

A number of armored security vehicles were used to slow and check traffic or were parked discreetly in the shade, a reporter at the track said.

There were no signs of any security worries among the teams, the reporter added, after the FIA governing body and F1 promoters insisted the race would go ahead as planned.