Nico Rosberg on Friday once again put his Williams F1 FW31 atop practice timesheets, this time in second practice in advance of Sunday's Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix. Runners cleared a dusty track in first practice and faced temperatures nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit in second. Fast practice was Rosberg's seventh in 11 this season. He timed a 1 minute, 33.339 on the 3.3-mile Bahrain International Circuit.
The German has given notice of his pace through winter and three races, though without having delivered top-step goods in a race. Fuel strategy and vision issues in the pouring rain last week in China spoiled the opportunity. Now he faces a race-day weather forecast including the term "rising sand" -- a wonderfully expressive term for sandstorm.
"You can only ever compare your performance to other race weekends so, relatively, I think we are looking OK," Rosberg said. "We've done a lot of setup work today, and I am quite happy with everything so we've made good progress. The team brought some new parts to Bahrain, and they seem to be working well so thanks to our aero guys for their continuing hard work in developing the car. I am really convinced that we will be able to do something positive at this race and to get the points that the car is worth."
Rosberg ended up ahead of Renault's Fernando Alonso, Toyota's Jarno Trulli, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, Brawn GP's Jenson Button, our championship leader, Force India's Adrian Sutil and Toyota's Timo Glock in the points spots. Brawn GP's Rubens Barrichello followed ahead of Rosberg teammate Kazuki Nakajima, without the new aero parts, and earlier pace-setter Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes, whose morning best was 1:33.647. With Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella behind Hamilton, that put all four Toyota-engined runners and five of six Mercedes-powered cars in the top 12. Force India benefitted from aero adjustments including a new floor and a revised front wing. McLaren's runners swapped front wings, Hamilton replacing the new from China with the old and Kovalainen taking the new.
As practice progressed, Trulli and Glock locked out the top spots for a lengthy spell. Nakajima came up third behind them. Sutil had the VJM02 as high as fourth on the charts. Topsy-turvy is de rigueur in 2009.
Bahrain resident Sebastien Buemi again led more experienced teammate Sebastien Bourdais, but only by one place as the Scuderia Toro Rosso duo clocked their way to 13th and 14th, respectively, ahead of Renault's second driver, Nelson Piquet, who shunted his front wing and needed a change. Buemi's morning included poor traction out of low-speed corners as well as bad handling before the STR4's Ferrari engine died altogether. Bourdais and Piquet are early favorites to lose their rides to mediocre performance before season's end -- possibly early in the European season, which starts in Spain on the weekend of May 10.
And whither Ferrari? Still and again struggling for pace, the defending constructors champions appeared in 16th and 18th on timesheets -- our of 20, mind -- in the persons of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, sandwiching BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and leading McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen and BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, KERS runners all. How is this possible? Raikkonen has labeled the F60 quite drivable just slow, as much as a second per lap off pace. The 2007 world champion's only certifiable speed came Friday morning in the pit lane; he was fined $5,000.
Heidfeld managed second-fastest in first practice and Kubica third. Tire issues -- Bridgestone has provided supersoft and medium for this weekend -- track grip and balance hampered the second session with the F1.09, Heidfeld said. Kubica added that temperatures will be a factor in effective use of KERS. Data at the ready, BMW Sauber engineering chief Willy Rampf pointed out that a 4.3-second spread covered the field last year; today it was 1.4 seconds, a delivery on the rules-makers' promise of increased competition.
Rosberg's quick time in the later session came on the supersoft tire, which performs almost immediately. The medium compound, on which Hamilton posted the morning quick lap, takes up to a half-dozen laps to reach peak performance temperature. Bridgestone's Hirohide Hamashima said the supersoft compound is more durable than expected. He mentioned, too, that the light air in Bahrain, where humidity Friday was under 20 percent, produced less downforce than did denser air teams tested in before the season started.
The track is expected to rubber in with Saturday's practice before qualifying. Kubica's pole time last year was 1:33.096.