Bahrain P2: Rosberg on top
Mercedes driver throws down the gauntlet with storming lap
By James Galloway.. Last Updated: 20/04/12 4:05pm
Chinese GP victor Nico Rosberg has served notice that Mercedes are likely to be right in the hunt for a second successive pole this weekend after a storming lap saw him top the Practice Two times in Bahrain.
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After focusing on longer runs and set-up work in opening practice on Friday, Rosberg catapulted ahead of the early afternoon pacesetters with a highly impressive soft-tyre lap of 1:32.816 - which left him all-but half a second clear of the field.
The German, who at that point was 0.4 seconds quicker than everyone else through the final sector alone, found sufficiently more speed on this weekend's 'option' compound compared to nearest challengers Red Bull, whose drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel finished second and third respectively.
The World Champions' more familiar positions on the timesheet, however, underlined the progress the team look to have made with their RB8, with both drivers later showing solid race pace on the medium tyres. The only setback seemed to be a KERS problem on Webber's car that struck during midway through what was otherwise a relatively uneventful session as the paddock continued to digest news of Force India's withdrawal from Practice Two.
Morning pacesetters McLaren, meanwhile, showed their first signs of potential weakness this weekend as neither Lewis Hamilton nor Jenson Button set particularly competitive times on the soft compound, the former fourth but nearly a full second off the pace whilst Button complained of a lack of grip.
The second Mercedes of Michael Schumacher would likely had been closer to Rosberg but, after getting held up on his first fast lap on the softs, dropped a whole second to his team-mate's time next time round as the rubber quickly lost performance.
"The big three are now McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull. Ferrari are gamely hanging on, but I'd say Lotus are the next team up."
Martin Brundle Quotes of the week
Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Button were next up with Fernando Alonso continuing to do his best to ring the neck of the Ferrari F2012 in eighth, the Spaniard having a brief-off track moment across the sand on his long run towards the end of the session.
As reported by Sky Sports News' Craig Slater earlier, Force India opted to sit out the whole second completely after taking the decision to bring forward their usual post-P2 work on the cars in order to be in a position to leave the circuit and return to their hotel in central Manama still in daylight hours.
The Silverstone-based team have played down the affect likely to be felt by missing so much running time and will return to action on Saturday morning in final Practice with Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg.
Hardly a surprise to the pair will have been the news that their fellow drivers increasingly struggled for grip and balance on the tyres around the Sakhir circuit as the afternoon temperatures gradually began to drop, with Button particularly vocal about his problems on McLaren's pits-to-car radio.