LOTUS star Kimi Raikkonen was pleased to top the practice time sheets yesterday as this year's Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix weekend got underway in exciting fashion at Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) in Sakhir.
Raikkonen set the pace with the day's fastest lap of one minute 34.154 seconds to put his team ahead of their biggest rivals, who followed right behind.
"It's nice to be fastest, but you never know what the others are doing," said the Finn, who was a mere 0.030 seconds ahead of Red Bull's Mark Webber in yesterday's second practice session in the afternoon.
"We just stick to our programme and don't take too much notice of what else is happening."
Raikkonen said that there is still room for improvement as the weekend progresses.
"I actually made a mistake through the final corners on my fastest lap, so there's still more time to be found," Raikkonen explained. "It's tricky to get the setup right here and the wind can make a big difference; it might work for you one way but make things more tricky the other.
"Things aren't exactly where we want them, but we're reasonably fast, so let's see what we can do from here."
Also leaving BIC in a good mood last night was Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who set the pace in practice one with a best lap of 1:34.487.
"Everything went well today, even if it's not easy to say at the moment where we will be on Sunday," said Massa, who dropped to sixth in practice two.
"The car balance was good and it behaved well in all conditions, even if we suffered a bit with tyre wear, especially at the rear.
"It's pretty normal to have significant degradation in such high temperatures and on this front, so we have a lot of work to do to prepare for the race."
Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso was not far behind the leaders. He was 0.077s off Massa in the opening session before ending 0.156s behind Raikkoneon in fourth.
"It was a positive day and we are reasonably pleased with how the car behaved," said Alonso. "We had no major problems and more importantly, we didn't have to make any radical changes to the car to adapt it to this track and its long straights and slow corners, characteristics which I like a lot and usually produce a great show in the race.
"Ahead of us is another long evening of studying data to choose the best strategy and set-up for qualifying and the race."
Sebastian Vettel, who was third in the second practice for Red Bull, said that the competition in Bahrain has started off close.
"If you look at the opposition, then Ferrari and Lotus were strong today and I think it will be close in qualifying," said the three-time defending world champion.
"The tyres still seem to be the dominating factor. The car seems quick, so we have to make sure we use that and then we should be on the right page."
Red Bull boss Christian Horner concurred, and said that he expects tomorrow's Grand Prix to be a three or even four-stop race for the teams.
"The tyres are a little bit too much at the moment; we're right on the limit," said Horner.
"It's a three or four-stop race when two should be a maximum here, but the tyres are wearing too quickly.
"The drivers have to drive underneath the tyre; they cannot stress it, so they are only racing at 75 per cent of the potential.
"We must find a balance; mix strategies for good racing. We want to see the drivers go flat out as well. It's now overshot slightly, we just have to come back a little bit."
F1 action continues today with a third practice scheduled to begin at 11am and end at 12noon. Qualifying will then take place at 2pm.