After four agonizing winter months F1 cars finally returned to competitive action today. Practice 1 and 2 took place at the Bahrain International Circuit this morning, and to fill you in on Friday’s goings on here’s Badger’s Friday digest.

First up, there’s a bit of a storm brewing in the pitlane over McLaren’s latest technical innovation. Some of the other teams are pretty unhappy about it, particularly Renault’s Bob Bell, and you can read all about that one here.

Practice 1 was topped by Adrian Sutil in the Force India, the German positing a time of 1:56.583. He was followed by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica in the Renault (for the full times see here).

Sutil’s time would only have been good enough for 8th in the second session, where Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg was quickest. The German topped the timesheets in practice pretty often last season- only time will tell if he can match it with his race pace this time around. Hamilton took second in P2, followed by some chap called Schumacher. Full times here.

Overall practice was pretty calm, with teams getting their heads down and working on their qualifying and race setups. This was always going to be particularly important for the new teams, of whom Lotus came off best. Between them Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli clocked 73 laps, and finished P2 five and a half seconds shy of pacesetter Rosberg. They’d probably be happy with a similar showing in qualifying tomorrow. Team principal called it “a good day for the team after a very long night preparing the cars for today“. Well done lads.

It wasn’t a bad day for Virgin either. Timo Glock beat the Lotus drivers in P1 and may well have done the same in P2 had he done more than 3 laps- potential for a good scrap there. Teammate Lucas di Grassi struck Badger with his bright white gloves, which resembled those a magician might wear. The Brazilian managed 23 laps in total, so not a bad day for ‘The Magician’. Any chance of that one catching on?

Not so good at HRT though. Karun Chandhok didn’t manage a single lap due to a clutch problem, and faces a real test in qualifying tomorrow. Teammate Bruno Senna finally got some decent running in P2, but still ended up a whopping eleven and a half seconds shy of Rosberg’s time and over five behind nearest rival di Grassi.

At the established teams it was Mercedes who took the headlines, with Rosberg getting the better of Schumacher in both sessions. Michael could be forgiven for being a bit rusty after three years out the sport, and he ‘s even looking rusty in this promotional photo from Henri Lloyd.

The other expected front runners showed some pace, with McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull all putting in some decent times amongst their preparations for the race. Defending champ Jenson Button was satisfied with his work: “I think we did an okay job today. We can be reasonably happy with the performance of the car” the Brit said post-practice. So, despite some good showings from some of the other teams, these four still look like monopolising the top 8 positions on the grid.

Sutil showed Force India could spring some surprises this year, with teammate Liuzzi not too far off his pace in practice 1. There was also some promise for Renault, with Kubica’s 3rd in P1 and teammate Vitaly Petrov taking 8th in P2. At Williams Rubens Barrichello got down to development work, whilst rookie teammate Nico Hulkenberg posted an impressive 6th fastest time in P2.

Sauber were disappointingly slow in session 1- disappointing for this reporter at least, as he has the team and Pedro de la Rosa in his Fantasy Grand Prix line-up. However they were in much better shape in P2, de la Rosa clocking the 10th fastest lap of the session. Teammate Kamui Kobayashi was up to his old tricks, pulling off overtaking manoeuveres even though it was only practice. He even took to the sand to pass Bruno Senna’s HRT late in P2. Let’s hope for more of that from him in Sunday’s race. Toro Rosso showed midfield pace in both sessions, though Sebastien Buemi didn’t manage any running in P2.

Kobayashi was in typically feisty form in the Sauber.

Several drivers had off track excursions as they found the limits of their new cars, but nothing serious. The difficult turns 17 and 18 caught out both the youngest and oldest drivers on the grid, with both Jaime Alguersuari and Michael Schumacher getting their breaking wrong and running wide on the exit of turn 18. They should have read Badger’s Bahrain track guide– we said that corner would be a tricky one. Alguersuari had earlier demonstrated the art of pirouetting in an F1 car, and was very close to hitting the barrier. Fortunately for the Spaniard he was able to escape damage free.

Speaking of drivers off the track, the pitlane in Bahrain is awash with former F1 champions, with 18 past title winners set to parade their winning cars this weekend. Alain Prost is among them, and will also act as the drivers representative on the stewards panel this weekend, while Jacques Villeneuve will join the BBC 5Live team for the race commentary. Also spotted was Mika Hakkinen, getting a cuddle from old boss Ron Dennis in the McLaren pits.

Spotted: Mika and Ron enjoying a reunion cuddle in the McLaren garage.

Overall the real story of today was always going to be seeing the 2010 crop of F1 cars in action for the first time. Things on track will become a lot more clear in tomorrow’s qualifying session, but for now let’s just rejoice in the fact that Formula One is back.

Image credit:

http://twitpic.com/photos/TheFifthDriver
http://www.twitter.com/henrilloyd63