By Abhishek Takle
MANAMA (Reuters) - Kimi Raikkonen set a scorching pace in Saturday’s final practice session to keep Ferrari at the top of the timesheets in the build-up to qualifying for Sunday's Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
The Finn, who also ended opening day of practice quickest, lapped the 5.4-km Sakhir race track in a time of one minute 29.868 seconds, not far off his Friday benchmark.
That put him a whopping 0.525 seconds clear of second-placed Max Verstappen, with his Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo a further 0.059 seconds adrift in third.
Raikkonen was the only driver to lap in the 1:29 bracket.
Lewis Hamilton, who went into the weekend favorite for victory after having seen it snatched away by an ill-timed virtual safety car two weeks ago at the season-opener in Melbourne, was only fourth fastest, 0.823 seconds off Raikkonen’s best.
His hopes of chalking up a third Bahrain win on Sunday have already taken a hit, with the Briton set to drop five places on the grid for an unscheduled gearbox change on his Mercedes.
Sixth is the highest the four-times champion can start Sunday’s race -- which has never been won from lower than fourth on the grid -- even if he sets the quickest time in qualifying.
Hamilton, nevertheless, remains on course to equal Raikkonen’s record of 27 consecutive finishes in the points on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel, winner in Australia and last year in Bahrain, was fifth quickest ahead of last year’s pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas who was sixth for Mercedes.
Vettel caused a minor drama during the session when some of the bodywork fitted to his Ferrari’s sidepod worked loose and began flapping about, forcing the German four-time champion to pit for repairs.
Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz put Renault best-of-the-rest with the seventh and eighth quickest times.
Frenchman Pierre Gasly was ninth in his Honda-powered Toro Rosso with Fernando Alonso, a three-times winner in Bahrain, rounding out the top 10 in his McLaren.
Ferrari can take encouragement from Raikkonen’s pace, with the Finn looking a strong bet for his first pole position since last year’s Monaco Grand Prix.
The order at the front could change come qualifying, however, with the session taking place in much cooler track temperatures under the floodlights, compared to final practice, which was held in hot and sunny conditions.
(Reporting by Clare Fallon)