The 2013 Formula 1 world championship continues with Saturday sessions - final practice and qualifying - for the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Ferrari of Felipe Massa and the Lotus-Renault of Kimi Raikkonen topped the sheets after the first and second sessions, respectively, on Friday, and both will be among the favourites to land pole at Sakhir later in the day.
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel remains a threat and the German posted a very quick 1:34.282 in the second session. His team mate, Mark Webber, ran 1:34.184 at the same time but the Australian faces a grid penalty for the race on Sunday.
Fernando Alonso led Ferrari to a first win of the season last weekend with a 10s win over Raikkonen in Shanghai. The Spaniard has shown no sign of that pace dropping away and his second session time of 1:34.310 was only 0.156s off the fastest.
Where to Watch Practice and Qualifying Live
The third and final practice session starts at 9am BST and the qualifying session is scheduled to start at 12pm BST. Coverage of both sessions is on Sky F1, with radio commentary for qualifying on BBC Radio 5 live at 12.25pm BST. Real-time updates can be accessed from the Live Timing section on the official Web site. Highlights of the qualifying session are on BBC One at 5.30pm BST.
Friday Practice Review
The first practice session saw the drivers run the hard compound Pirelli tyres, which were drafted in after criticism for the soft compound used in China. The Italian manufacturers originally planned to bring the same specifications used in the last race but will now offer medium and hard compounds instead of soft and mediums.
The difference between the absolute fastest times for each compound was 0.333s - between Massa and Raikkonen on Saturday - but that could also have been because the Brazilian ran a higher fuel load. Vettel, for example, improved by nearly a second between the two sessions and Raikkonen's team mate, Romain Grosjean, went from 1:35.611 to 1:34.631.
And judging by comments from Sauber-Ferrari's Nico Hulkenberg, the medium compounds are good for just about 18-20 laps, depending on how hard the drivers push them. This is in stark contrast to the soft compounds from China, which lasted barely 10 laps before losing grip; this means teams now have a much greater window for pit stops.
Track conditions were generally good. The Sakhir circuit is not one of the most heavily used through the year so it does take time for the racing line to appear. In addition, because of its location, drivers must contend with sand blown off the desert and onto the track. The surface of the circuit itself is reasonably smooth; it is nearly a decade old and while not the smoothest, there are not too many bumps.
Overall, the Ferraris appear to be the team to beat again, although the strong pace of Raikkonen and the Red Bulls in the second session (when all drivers were running the medium compound Options) suggests the gap may be closer than it was in China.
Track temperature for most of Friday remained in the high 30C range, with a peak of 37C early in the first session. There was a spot of rain in between the two practice periods but no rain is forecast for the rest of the weekend.
The forecast calls for a maximum air temperature of 35C for Saturday. There will be significant cloud cover early in the morning, during the practice session and while that is expected to decrease as the day progresses, there will still be close to 10 percent medium cover for the start of qualifying. This should provide some respite from the heat.
Wind speeds are expected to range from 9km/h to 13km/h, with shifting patterns from a north-north-westerly in the morning to a north-easterly in the afternoon. Quite a few drivers were caught on Friday, particularly heading into the first corner and at Turns 13 and 14; a north-easterly breeze will continue to affect cars in that section and this could be crucial during qualifying because Turn 13 leads on to the back straight and a clean run through the final sequence of corners is necessary for a fast lap time.