Rosberg fastest in final Bahrain practice

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

Sunni monarchy.

At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February