Nico Rosberg looks to be the driver to beat in qualifying after
posting the fastest time in final practice on Saturday at the
Bahrain Grand Prix where security remains tight amid expectations
of further anti-government protests.
Rosberg, who won the Chinese Grand Prix last week for his first
Formula One victory, clocked 1 minute, 33.254 seconds in his
Mercedes around the 3.4-mile Bahrain International Circuit.
That was 0.147 seconds quicker than two-time world champion
Sebastian Vettel and 0.409 seconds better than Vettel’s Red Bull
teammate Mark Webber.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who was fastest in first practice,
settled for fourth. Ferrari’s troubles continued with Fernando
Alonso finishing 10th and Felipe Massa 16th.
Pastor Maldonado of Williams was penalized five grid places for
Sunday’s race after needing a new gearbox.
He finished down in 11th in final practice as drivers struggled
with tough conditions on the track, with temperatures reaching 109
degrees and winds whipping up sand from the surrounding desert. The
heat on the track was especially hard on tires with several drivers
wearing them down quicker than expected.
Security was tight following days of sometimes violent
anti-government protests in Bahrain.
Bahrain authorities opened an investigation Saturday after the
body of a man was found near the scene of Friday’s clashes between
protesters and security forces – in an area about 20 kilometers
from the circuit.
Opposition groups claimed the man was killed by riot police in
another possible blow to the Gulf nation as it struggles to quell
unrest during the highly awaited return of the race after it had to
be canceled last year.
A statement by Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said a probe was
under way but the death nonetheless will likely intensify a wave of
expected protests against the race later in the day.
There were checkpoints on the roads leading to the Bahrain
International Circuit. Additional security troops have been
deployed around the circuit and across the capital, Manama. But
there were no signs of protests early Saturday anywhere near the
Demonstrators have called for the race to be canceled until the
ruling Sunni dynasty enacts meaningful reforms aimed at addressing
the concerns of the Shiite majority and ends its rights abuses.
Social media sites urged demonstrations as part of an opposition
effort to use the worldwide spotlight on the race to press demands
for a greater political voice. Bahrain’s Shiite majority claims it
faces widespread discrimination at the hands of the Western-backed
At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February