Sebastian Vettel finished second-fastest behind Lewis Hamilton in the opening practice session at Bahrain

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has once again set the early pace on a Grand Prix weekend, topping the timesheets in a relatively quiet opening practice session as Formula 1 marked its return to Bahrain after a two-year absence.

The Englishman beat defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel to top spot, while a run on Pirelli’s softer tyre compound helped Force India’s Paul di Resta into third place.

Not surprisingly, security was extremely tight at the Sakhir circuit in the wake of the anti-government protests that are anticipated in the area all weekend, with security officials perhaps being overzealous in confiscating many journalists’ snack food – and even pens! – as they tried to enter the circuit this morning.

It was perhaps little surprise to the session almost completely devoid of fans, with estimates ranging between 70 and 150 bums in seats in the main grandstand along the front straight, presumably most of them being staunch supporters of the unpopular Royal Family.

One of the more interesting rumours humming along during the session was that Force India mightn’t even participate in the afternoon’s session, with team members reportedly still shaken up after four mechanics were caught up in a Molotov cocktail attack on Wednesday evening.

Force India could reportedly not run in FP2It is understood that several team members are reluctant to travel in the dark, which could explain the team’s unusual decision to run the softer-compound Pirellis in the opening session, a practice that’s almost universally avoided when track conditions are at their worst on the opening day of a Grand Prix weekend. Both drivers also clocked up the most laps of any team this session, which would support theories that they were trying to combine two sessions’ worth of programmes into one.

Our reports on the ground suggest that frantic negotiations will be underway between Formula One Management, circuit officials and the team to force encourage the team to remain on-track to avoid embarrassing local authorities. It appears safety concerns are less important than saving face…

To the action on track now, and teams didn’t get down to the business of posting serious lap-times until at last half an hour of the ninety-minute session had elapsed. Hamilton eventually went fastest of all with his 1:33.572 effort, beating Vettel by three-tenths of a second to claim top honours for the sixth practice session this season.

Hamilton’s McLaren team also devoted a lot of time to practice pit stops in a bid to curb a repeat of the recent pit stop dramas that hit Hamilton at Malaysia and team-mate Jenson Button at China.

Timo Glock's spin was just about the only incident of note in FP1It was a largely incident-free session, although a few drivers had minor off-track moments as their explored the limits of their cars’ braking potential and the circuit’s inherent lack of grip early in the weekend. Timo Glock was the only driver to have a spin, rotating his Marussia in the final five minutes of play (pictured). He finished the session 22nd-fastest, slower than team-mate Charles Pic.

Heikki Kovalainen lost valuable track time while his Caterham mechanics investigated a suspected engine problem with his Renault powerplant, but he still finished 18th-fastest on the timesheets, just one-tenth slower than Toro Rosso’s Jean-Éric Vergne, and quicker than the sister STR7 of Daniel Ricciardo.

At the sharp end of the field, the top-ten was completed by China race-winner Nico Rosberg in fourth, followed by Button, Nico Hülkenberg in the second Force India, Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, and both Lotus F1 drivers.

2012 Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:

Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:33.572   11
2. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:33.877 + 0.305 21
3. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:34.150 + 0.578 26
4. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:34.249 + 0.677 23
5. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:34.277 + 0.705 14
6. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:34.344 + 0.772 26
7. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:34.483 + 0.911 17
8. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:34.552 + 0.980 22
9. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:34.609 + 1.037 17
10. Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:34.847 + 1.275 20
11. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C31 1:35.024 + 1.452 22
12. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault FW34 1:35.268 + 1.696 24
13. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:35.436 + 1.824 21
14. Valtteri Bottas FIN Williams Renault FW34 1:35.497 + 1.925 24
15. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:35.719 + 3.047 19
16. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C31 1:35.929 + 1.805 24
17. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:36.195 + 2.662 20
18. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault CT01 1:36.330 + 2.758 11
19. Vitaly Petrov RUS Caterham Renault CT01 1:36.484 + 2.912 18
20. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:36.591 + 3.019 20
21. Charles Pic FRA Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:37.467 + 3.895 17
22. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:38.006 + 4.434 18
23. Pedro de la Rosa ESP HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:38.877 + 5.305 19
24. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:39.996 + 6.424 23

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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