Lewis Hamilton expects to face another fast and furious scrap with Sebastian Vettel this weekend as the pair head to the desert for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix. "That was a lion lap".
Hamilton struggled on his supersoft qualifying simulation but is already primed for a five-place grid penalty as a result of a gearbox change, while teammate Valtteri Bottas was almost a second off Raikkonen's pace in sixth place.
Hamilton and Bottas struggled on their first attempt to topple Raikkonen, the former running wide at the final corner which was a pretty common scene across the field.
"The next contract is probably the most important one of my career", said 33-year-old British four-time world champion Hamilton, who is in the middle of talks over a new deal with Mercedes to take him beyond this season.
"If you look at the pace - testing, first race - it is very clear Mercedes is the fastest, by a 0.3-0.4-second gap", Vettel, also a four-time world champion, said.
Raikkonen and Vettel finished half-a-second clear of their Mercedes rivals in practice, and Vettel, while pleased with his team's progress, expressed caution over Friday's times. Verstappen's team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was third quickest.
Valtteri Bottas was third, just 23 thousandths of a second behind Raikkonen after making a two-tenths improvement on his final lap. Back-to-back wins would boost Ferrari in their bid for a first place title since 2007, but with 19 races to follow, they won't get carried away, after Vettel led early last season but Hamilton eventually took the title.
Kevin Magnussen was just 29 thousandths of a second slower in seventh, with the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr sandwiching the Force India of Esteban Ocon in ninth.
The pressure will be on Bottas to fly the German manufacturer's flag against the Italian team in Sunday's race, a tough task after the pace they showed in practice.
The former champions had book-ended the timesheets in the afternoon, with Ricciardo fastest and Verstappen at the bottom having failed to set a time after being sidelined by an electrical issue. Maini completed 12 laps of work in the 45-minute session held in hot and humid conditions.
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