UPDATE 1-Motor racing-Rosberg fastest in Bahrain free practice
(Adds second session, quotes)
By Alan Baldwin
MANAMA, April 20 (Reuters) - Nico Rosberg followed up his first Formula One win with Mercedes with the fastest lap in Friday practice for a Bahrain Grand Prix overshadowed by petrol bombs and protests elsewhere in the Gulf kingdom.
The German, who took the first victory by a Mercedes works team since 1955 at last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, lapped the desert Sakhir circuit in one minute 32.816 seconds in the afternoon session.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton set the pace in the morning, when Formula One cars took to the reconfigured track for the first time in more than two years after last year's race was cancelled following a bloody crackdown on an anti-government uprising.
Human rights activists and pro-democracy protesters have called on the glamour sport to cancel the event again this year.
"That was a good start to the weekend," said Rosberg, a winner after 110 unsuccessful attempts, while casting doubt on how meaningful the times were. "The most important thing still is to improve our race pace.
"The conditions are really tough out there so the race will be quite demanding from the tyre perspective," added the German, who was fourth before lunch.
Australian Mark Webber was second fastest for Red Bull in the same session, ahead of team mate and double world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The two drivers used different exhaust configurations in China, with Vettel reverting to one used in pre-season testing after finding an update not to his liking.
"Regarding set-up, I think we got the answers in China that we were looking for and that's helped us here," said the 24-year-old German, who was second on the morning timesheets.
"I think others are the favourites this weekend but we are focusing on ourselves and pushing hard."
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, said looking after the tyres was going to be the big challenge in the blazing conditions.
"The temperatures keep on rising until it feels just like driving on an ice-rink," he said, after finishing fourth in the afternoon.
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.
The Ferraris of Spaniard Fernando Alonso and Brazilian Felipe Massa were 13th and 15th respectively in session one and eighth and 12th in the second.
Force India's British driver Paul Di Resta was third quickest in the morning but neither he nor his German team mate Nico Hulkenberg took part in the afternoon due to safety concerns.
The British based team, who allowed two members to go home on Thursday after staff were caught in a petrol bomb incident as they were driving back to their hotel, clearly wanted to ensure staff were away from the track before nightfall.
"It's not necessarily a 'get home before dark' (situation)," said deputy principal Bob Fernley. "We've had issues, as you all know, with things and we have to make sure that the crew are comfortable in the environment and that's what we're working on.
"But the crew are totally committed to delivering qualifying and the race." (Editing by Justin Palmer)
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