Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel steers his car during the first practice session for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, at the Formula One Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain. AP

SAKHIR: Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel posted the fastest time in the first practice session at the Bahrain Grand Prix, while Formula One rival Lewis Hamilton saved his pace for Friday’s second practice and did not push for a leading time.

In roasting hot temperatures, Vettel clocked 1 minute, 32.697 seconds, putting him .400 quicker than Daniel Ricciardo and .869 ahead of his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen.

Hamilton was nearly two seconds behind in 10th, with his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas 14th.

Hamilton and Vettel are level on 43 points in the championship race with one win each. Vettel won the season-opening Australian GP and Hamilton, who has secured both pole positions, won in China last weekend.

When drivers took to their cars at 2pm local time (1100 GMT), the track temperature was 46 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit).

However, temperatures will be considerably lower for Sunday’s race, which starts in the evening and finishes under floodlights.

After 30 minutes of practice, Carlos Sainz Jr. — son of the former rally world champion Carlos Sainz — briefly went quickest for Toro Rosso on soft tires.

Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen’s session ended early after his Ferrari sustained engine damage before he could even complete a timed lap.

He pulled up on the side of the track, climbed out with his helmet still on and started walking back to the paddock despite the intense desert heat. Raikkonen, whose nickname is “Iceman,” eventually hitched a lift the rest of the way on a scooter. Meanwhile, his Ferrari was lifted off the track by a crane, with the team saying the problem was overheating in the turbo area.

When practice resumed, Hamilton and Bottas were at the top of the leaderboard on soft tires, but then dropped right down as Vettel took command.

Teen driver Lance Stroll was sixth quickest for Williams, but the 18-year-old Canadian lost grip late in the session.

McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne’s session was cut short by an engine problem, which will be a cause of frustration for his team. McLaren has failed to score a point so far this season.

There was also some friction between Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein.

Ocon and Wehrlein were teammates at Manor Racing in the second part of last season. Ocon is now driving for Force India and Wehrlein is with Sauber. After Wehrlein appeared to get too close near the end of P1, Ocon said over his race radio: “I don’t know what Wehrlein is doing.”

Ocon’s engineer replied sarcastically: “Wehrlein doesn’t know what Wehrlein’s doing, so don’t worry about that.”

Wehrlein missed the first two races of the season after struggling to recover from a back injury sustained at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, where he sustained hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressed some of his intervertebral discs.

Former F1 owner Bernie Ecclestone was in the paddock. The 86-year-old Ecclestone was in charge of the sport for nearly 40 years before relinquishing control to US sports and entertainment firm Liberty Media in January.--AP

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