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FERRARI’S FERNANDO ALONSO SETS PACE AHEAD OF QUALIFYING

By NBF News

Alonso is making his long-awaited Ferrari debut in Bahrain

By Andrew Benson and Sarah Holt
Fernando Alonso threw down the gauntlet to his rivals with a blistering performance in Bahrain final practice.

Alonso, in his first race for Ferrari at the start of the 2010 season, set the pace with a lap 0.269 seconds quicker than Mercedes's Nico Rosberg.

Mark Webber was third fastest, ahead of Michael Schumacher's Mercedes and his fellow Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, as the big names dominated.

Lewis Hamilton was 12th after a wheel problem, with Jenson Button seventh.

Hamilton missed the latter stages of the session and was unable to try his McLaren in its qualifying specification – low tanks and soft tyres – unlike all his rivals in the top four teams.

Ferrari, strongly tipped as the team to beat heading into the new season, showed the true pace of their car for the first time.

Double world champion Alonso's notable performance culminated in a best lap of one minute 54.099 seconds.

He was 0.640secs faster than sixth-quickest team-mate Felipe Massa, who generally had the upper hand over previous team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in the last two years.

The session also confirmed the impression that Rosberg is likely to out-qualify Schumacher at the German legend's first race back after three years in retirement.

Schumacher, who on Friday admitted to being a little “rusty” in terms of out-and-out one-lap pace, still appeared to be struggling with his car, particularly through the bumpy new section of the track.

Here, a series of tight corners have added about half a mile to the length of the Bahrain lap, which is now nearly four miles long.

The new teams continued to struggle. The fastest of their drivers, Virgin's Timo Glock, found himself five seconds slower than Alonso. Lotus's Heikki Kovalainen was the next up.

Hispania Racing's Bruno Senna lapped 9.9secs off the pace as the new Spanish team get to grips with a car that had not turned a wheel before they arrived in Bahrain.

The car of Senna's team-mate, Karun Chandhok, has still to move an inch as engineers continue to struggle with hydraulics problems.

But governing body the FIA confirmed Chandhok can take part in qualifying, despite his non-appearance at practice.

However, the Indian will not be able to take part in the race unless his car completes some track time in qualifying.