SAKHIR, Bahrain — Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen had the fastest time in the second practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix, followed by the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel on Friday.
Raikkonen, who won the season-opening Australian GP, was 0.03 seconds faster than Webber and 0.12 quicker than Vettel.
"It's nice to be fastest but you never know what the others are doing," said Raikkonen, who won the drivers' championship in 2007. "We just stick to our program and don't take too much notice of what else is happening. I actually made a mistake through the final corners on my fastest lap, so there's still more time to be found."
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was fourth while his teammate Felipe Massa, who topped the charts in the first practice, settled for sixth. Force India's Paul di Resta was fifth.
The race has been overshadowed somewhat by the political crisis in the divided Gulf country. While the circuit has been quiet, daily clashes have taken place in nearby Shiite villages between pro-democracy protesters and riot police.
Rights groups have condemned the race going ahead amid allegations of crackdowns and widespread arrest of government opponents.
Several drivers had trouble with the hot and dry conditions, including Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, who finished 10th, and McLaren's Jenson Button, who came in 11th – the latest setback for a team that has struggled to be competitive.
"We worked as hard as we could today, but couldn't quite get the balance of the car to where it needs to be," Hamilton said.
The session was largely uneventful, except for Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez clipping his tire on the wing of Caterham's Charles Pic, forcing the Mexican back to the pits. Gutierrez has been slow to adjust to F1 and was penalized five grid places for the Bahrain race, after he was blamed for a collision with Force India's Adrian Sutil in China.
Late Friday, riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades in attempts to disperse thousands of protesters gathered along a main highway outside the capital, Manama, to chant against Formula One and wider crackdowns by Bahrain authorities. Some of the demonstrators wore masks with the image of jailed rights activist Nabeel Rajab.
Also, the British television channel ITV said Bahrain expelled its crew members after being detained while filming at a mosque. Bahrain officials said three journalists were asked to leave because of violations of media "regulations."
Several teams, including Ferrari and McLaren, endorsed the decision to come to Bahrain amid a political crisis. The FIA, the governing body of world motor sports, gave the OK to race on Sunday. It said the Bahrain GP should proceed "following assurances from the local promoter and the authorities that security, their responsibility, will be guaranteed for all participants."
F1 boss Bernie Eccelstone scoffed at reports of trouble, telling reporters "you guys are the ones who write about the rubbish. Have you found any?"
"Looks all right, doesn't it?" he said. "I think anyone who really wants to see and talk about human rights should go to Syria, maybe. There are plenty of places in the world like Egypt where they got rid of dictators and put democracy in. Since then, there has been more trouble."