Sakhir (Bahrain): Nico Rosberg was fastest in the second practice at the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix on Friday, as safety concerns over anti-government protests prompted Force India to skip the session.
Rosberg, who won the Chinese Grand Prix last week for his first Formula One victory, clocked 1 minute, 32.816 seconds in his Mercedes around the 5.4-kilometer (3.4-mile) Bahrain International Circuit. That was about a half-second quicker than Red Bull pair Mark Webber and two-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who was fastest in the first practice, settled for fourth.
Rosberg was 0.446 seconds quicker than Red Bull\'s Mark Webber and 0.709 seconds better than Sebastian Vettel.
Ferrari improved on a dismal first session but Fernando Alonso still was 8th and Felipe Massa 12th.
Most drivers quickly adjusted to the dry and dusty circuit, which is holding an F1 race for the first time in two years. The 2011 race was cancelled due to ongoing anti-government protests that that have left nearly 50 dead.
Several drivers, though, went off the track at the tricky turn 10. Timo Glock of Marussia spun out on the first corner in the first practice but the German quickly recovered. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher also nearly rear-ended a Caterham driver but was able to back off at the last second in the second session.
Just an hour before the second practice, Force India announced they would not take part due to safety concerns.
Deputy team principal Robert Fernley said the decision was made following the first practice and a day after two Force India members left the Gulf nation in the wake of a team vehicle being briefly delayed because of a firebomb. The announcement also came amid reports that anti-government protests were scheduled after practice.
After Force India drivers Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg didn't go out, motorsport's governing body, the FIA, released a statement saying they were missing the practice due to "logistical reasons" which will force the team to "run a rescheduled program for the rest of the weekend."
Di Resta was third in the first session and Hulkenberg was sixth.
Sauber issued a statement confirming a dozen mechanics on a team bus witnessed trouble on Thursday as they made their way back from the circuit to their hotel.
"The team members saw a few masked people running from there over to their lane where a bottle was burning as well," the team said. "The minibus moved to the very right side of the highway and went past the situation. No one from the Sauber team was hurt."
Security was tight ahead of practice following days of sometimes violent anti-government protests.
There were checkpoints on the roads leading to the track. Additional security troops have been deployed around the circuit and across the capital, Manama. There were no signs of protests at the circuit early Friday.
Supporters of the Shiite opposition planned to rally later Friday against the F1 race. The race is backed by the ruling Sunni dynasty but is opposed by demonstrators who contend it rewards a regime that continues to detain political prisoners and commit rights abuses.
On Thursday, there were sporadic clashes, including riot police firing tear gas and stun grenades at protesters chanting anti-F1 slogans. Downtown shops also shuttered early amid the tightened security.
Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain's population of just over half a million people, but claim they face widespread discrimination and lack opportunities that the Sunni minority has. The country's leaders have offered some reforms, but the opposition says they fall short of Shiite demands for a greater voice in the country's affairs and an elected government.
Clashes between protesters and security forces have taken place almost every day for months. The unrest has intensified in the lead-up to the F1 race.