MANAMA: McLaren's Lewis Hamilton set the pace in the first free practice session held at the Bahrain Formula One circuit for more than two years on Friday.
Last year's race at Sakhir was cancelled after a bloody crackdown on an anti-government uprising and human rights activists have called on the glamour sport to cancel the event again this year.
With tight security beyond the metal fences of the paddock, and few spectators in the stands, drivers got down to business on a circuit whose layout has been shortened since 2010 when fans witnessed a boring race with little overtaking.
Hamilton, the 2008 champion who is leading the standings after three successive third places, lapped with a best time of one minute 33.572 seconds.
Red Bull's world champion Sebastian Vettel was second on the timing screens, 0.305 slower, with Force India's British driver Paul Di Resta third.
Neither Hamilton, who started the first two races on pole position, nor Vettel have won a race yet this season with three different winners in the opening rounds.
Germany's Nico Rosberg, who took his first win at the 111th attempt in China last weekend, was fourth fastest for his Mercedes team with McLaren's Jenson Button fifth.
The Ferraris of Spaniard Fernando Alonso and Brazilian Felipe Massa were 13th and 15th respectively.