- Ferrari denies making a political statement having the Italian navy flag on its F1 cars
- Marque says flag is there in hope Italy and India can settle a political dispute
- Two Italian sailors were arrested after incident that left two Indian fisherman dead
- Sebastian Vettel goes quickest in practice ahead of Indian Grand Prix in New Delhi
Ferrari's team principal Stefano Domenicali has insisted there is no "political intention" in the Italian marque's decision to bear the country's naval flag on their cars at the Indian Grand Prix.
Both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will carry the symbol on their livery, a move that has been interpreted as a message of support for two Italian navy officers arrested after an incident that resulted in the death of two Indian fishermen in February.
The officers are understood to have mistaken the fisherman for pirates who they thought were trying to attack an oil tanker they had been protecting. They were jailed in March and later bailed ahead of their trial.
Ferrari posted a statement on their website on Wednesday that read: "Ferrari will carry the flag of the Italian Navy on the cars driven by Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in this weekend's Indian Grand Prix.
"In doing so, Ferrari pays tribute to one of the outstanding entities of our country, also in the hope that the Indian and Italian authorities will soon find a solution to the situation currently involving two sailors from the Italian Navy."
Ferrari's decision to bear the flag on their cars was applauded by Italy's minister for foreign affairs, Giulio Terzi, who took it as a show of support for the sailors -- Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone.
He wrote on his official Twitter page: "Congratulations to Ferrari for displaying the the Navy's symbol at the India GP. It will show the sailors the whole country is behind them."
Formula One's governing body, the FIA, states clearly that it "shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect."
But when questioned about the flag at a press conference ahead of Sunday's race in New Delhi, Domenicali was coy about the reasons behind it.
"I think that you have to refer to that (Ferrari's statement) to be honest, and look what is written exactly, and the reason why we put that on," he said in quotes carried on the sport's official website.
"There's not any political intention or discussion in that. If you look at that, that's really what is written.
"If you look behind in the past we've done a lot of initiatives but there's nothing that I want to go into very specifically because it's not really the place where I should do it."
AFP reported that Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone had said the matter should be dealt with by India's national motorsport association, the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI).
"What we'd do, we'd look at the national sporting authority (FMSCI) here to have a look at that... we are not political," Ecclestone was reported to have said in New Delhi.
As for matters on the track, both Ferrari drivers trail behind reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, who was quickest in both the morning and afternoon sessions.
Red Bull's German driver sits six points ahead of Alonso at the top of the drivers' championship standings, as he goes in search of a third straight title.
Vettel and teammate Mark Webber were over half a second quicker than Alonso in the second practice session with Nico Rosberg fourth fastest for Mercedes. Qualifying is on Saturday before the race on Sunday.
"The track improvement was quite big today, it was dusty to start and improved lap by lap, so I wouldn't be surprised if tomorrow the order is different, but we've had worse Fridays, so I am happy," Vettel told F1's official website.
Alonso, who has seen his championship lead eroded by Vettel in recent weeks, added: "This is an interesting circuit: after the longest straight, there's a combination of high-speed corners which are very nice to drive.
"Today the track was still very dirty, which is usually the case at new tracks that aren't used very often. Tomorrow, when it will deliver more grip, it will be even more fun."