MANAMA, April 24 – Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton of Britain bounced back to the top of the time sheets in Friday's opening free practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old McLaren Mercedes driver, recovering from a troubled and controversial start to the season, recovered much of his old vim and pace in a revised car as the teams started preparations for Sunday’s contest in hot and dry desert conditions.
Hamilton, his car carrying many revised parts notably to the front wing, floor and diffuser, clocked a best time of one minute and 33.647 seconds in his 19 laps to wind up two-tenths of a second clear of second-placed German Nick Heidfeld.
Heidfeld, in a BMW Sauber, ran with the super-soft tyres in the final laps to jump up the time-sheets ahead of his BMW team-mate Robert Kubica of Poland.
Another German, Nico Rosberg, was fourth for Williams ahead of championship-leading Briton Jenson Button and his Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello of Brazil.
Ferrari’s Brazilian driver Felipe Massa was eighth, Australian Mark Webber of Red Bull ninth and Finn Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari, 10th.
Chinese Grand Prix winner, Sebastian Vettel of Germany, in the second Red Bull, was down in 12th place and two-times world champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Renault was 18th.
After a slow start in the hot conditions, with a track temperature of 46 degrees Celsius and an air temperature of 34 degrees, the teams began to send out their cars and drivers for installation laps.
As they settled down and began clocking decent times, Rosberg was fastest and stayed on top until mid-way through the 90-minutes session when Hamilton clocked the best lap.
At this stage, the Brawn GP team were struggling to make an impact with Button restricted in his action by an up-shift problem in his car’s gearbox.
The team managed to resolve the issue in the final 20 minutes and, in rapid succession, both Barrichello and then Button jumped into the top three with fast lap times before the final flurry of action.