Felipe Massa was fastest in opening practice for the Bahrain GP ahead Fernando Alonso

Fast-starting Ferrari pick up where they left off in China

By Mike Wise at Sakhir.   Last Updated: 19/04/13 1:56pm

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Felipe Massa: Early pacesetter in Bahrain

Felipe Massa: Early pacesetter in Bahrain

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Felipe Massa topped the times in opening practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso.

The Brazilian lapped the 5.412km Sakhir circuit in a time of 1:34.487 seconds to go 0.077s faster than Alonso, who won last weekend's race in China.

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg was third fastest ahead of World Champion Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull and Force India's Paul di Resta.

The top ten order was completed by Jenson Button (McLaren), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Adrian Sutil (Force India) and Lotus pair Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.

Lewis Hamilton ended the session 13th fastest in his Mercedes while Heikki Kovalainen's first P1 outing for Caterham ended with him in 20th place and slower than regular driver Charles Pic.

The usual caveats must be applied when using practice times as a guide for what might unfold later in the weekend but, coming as it does just five days after Alonso's Shanghai succes, Ferrari have made made the best start possible.

Little of surprise occurred during the 90-minute outing - including the fact that Massa topped his team leader. The Brazilian has won the race twice before and seems to enjoy the stop-start desert track.

With dust naturally more of a factor here than elsewhere, neither was it surprising that the session took its time getting underway. Having said that, cars took to the track earlier than they did last weekend.

Nico Hulkenberg was the first driver to set a time, with Raikkonen immediately going five seconds faster. Button and Sutil both briefly took turns at the top, with Vettel fastest halfway through, his lap (1:34.978s) just over a tenth faster than Webber.

Rosberg complained of understeer on the radio but it didn't stop him from jumping to the top of the timesheets. But it was Alonso who was fastest on the hour before Massa bested him.

Coming so soon after the Chinese Grand Prix, the session brought little in the way of car updates although Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz did report that Red Bull were running a new front axle on Vettel's car featuring a hole for aerodynamic purposes.

The device - its intention being to improve airflow around the car's front wheels - is similar to one already used by Williams. However, the World Champions tried something similar in Canada last year before it was banned by the FIA.

Elsewhere, Grosjean is running a new chassis this weekend but suffered a KERS problem while Raikkonen and Hamilton both spent long periods in the pits making set-up changes.

At the back of the field, the fact that Kovalainen was slower than Pic seemed to confirm his insistence that working to improve Caterham's CT03 was more important than setting faster lap times.

The gap might also be explained by the Finn's rustiness and a lack of running on Pirelli's latest tyres. Whatever, it worked in this session at least as Caterham ended it faster than rivals Marussia for the first time this season.

For the latter outfit, Max Chilton was also faster than his team-mate for the first time - Jules Bianchi albeit making way for reserve Rodolfo Gonzalez.

The Venezuelan was 0.8s slower than the Briton, with a gearbox problem curtailing his session after seven laps.

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