SETTING THE PACE: Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was the fastest driver during the first two practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix. Image: AP /Luca Bruno
Sakhir, Bahrain - Nico Rosberg kept the upper hand on his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by setting the fastest time in Friday's practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix, as Formula 1's top team dominated again.
Rosberg, who won the season-opening race in Australia and the final three races of last season, set a best time of 1 minute.31.001 seconds at the Sakhir circuit, a quarter of a second better than Hamilton.
Button third fastest
Mercedes was in a league of its own, with third-place Jenson Button of McLaren 1.3 seconds off Rosberg's time. That was an encouraging performance for McLaren, which has been on a slow development path with engine partner Honda since last season.
Ferrari, which could be Mercedes' main challenger this season, was further off the pace. Kimi Raikkonen was fifth, followed by Sebastian Vettel who was forced to park the car trackside after a reliability failure.
Vettel suffered drive issues
Vettel initially said over the team radio that he "lost drive" but later remarked that "the left rear corner is not tight." When the car was being lifted by a crane, the angle of the wheel looked off center.
Read: Bahrain GP 2nd Practice - As it happened
Max Verstappen was fourth fastest for Toro Rosso, the Red Bull pair Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo was seventh and ninth respectively, and Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa eight and 10th.
Friday's two practice sessions were held in unfamiliar cool conditions in the desert kingdom , around 20o celsius for most of the evening session. With the same three tire compounds in use here as in Australia, and similar temperatures, a similar result is on the cards.
The heavily criticized rolling elimination format for qualifying was retained from Melbourne despite strong objections from all teams, as they were not able to unanimously agree over reverting to 2015's system or tweaking the new format.