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Iceman Raikkonen fastest in Bahrain desert heat

Kimi Raikkonen steers his Lotus car during this year’s world championship.

Kimi Raikkonen steers his Lotus car during this year’s world championship.

Formula One ‘Iceman’ Kimi Raikkonen lapped fastest for Lotus in the Bahrain desert heat yesterday after Ferrari had set the early practice pace.

The Finn, 2007 world champion for Ferrari and chasing his 21st successive race in the points, sped to a best time of one minute 34.154 seconds in the afternoon session when track temperatures hovered around 42 degrees celsius.

Brazilian Felipe Massa kept Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso off the top in the morning with a lap of 1:34.487.

The Spaniard, winner of the third race of the season in China last weekend, was 0.077 slower. The Ferrari pair focused on long runs in the afternoon, one on the medium tyres and the other on hards.

Massa then switched to the hards after complaining about wear on the rears.

Germany’s Nico Rosberg was third fastest in the morning for Mercedes, who had Lewis Hamilton only 13th, with Red Bull’s triple champion and overall leader Sebastian Vettel taking that place after lunch.

Australian Mark Webber, making his 200th start this weekend with a three-place grid penalty after a nightmare race in Shanghai, was seventh and second for Red Bull in the two sessions.

Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen, dropped by Caterham at the end of last season, made his return to the team as a reserve driver and lapped 20th of the 22 drivers in the first practice.

Another reserve, Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez, made his first Friday appearance for Marussia in place of Jules Bianchi but completed only seven laps due to a gearbox problem.

Season-opening slot

Bahrain could return to a season-opening slot on the Formula One calendar, with a test at the Sakhir circuit preceding it, if local officials can convince commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani told reporters that his personal preference was for the controversial race to be the first of the year rather than third or fourth.

“It’s a good start to the season, it gives us the chance to have the teams here longer, there is more anticipation, more unknowns, how the cars will react to the new tyres, the regulations, the drivers are just back into their rhythm,” he explained.

“But the decision is not entirely ours,” Alzayani added.

“We are talking about 2014 onwards but it’s a bit early to talk about the calendar for 2014. We’re open to suggestion.”

Bahrain replaced Australia as the first race of the season in 2006 and 2010 and would have done so in 2011 had that race not been postponed and then called off due to civil unrest.

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