Max Verstappen was fastest in the first practice session for this weekends Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver was just under two tenths faster than the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas with his championship rival Lewis Hamilton third. The session gave the drivers the first opportunity to drive the reprofiled circuit, with Red Bull and Mercedes trading lap times.
Verstappen setting the pace despite his steering was “right-hand down” and “really annoying” to drive. Hamilton then improved on his second run to close to within five hundredths following his first run, the Dutchman then pulled away by three-tenths setting the session topping 25.009.
Verstappen was ahead from his first lap and looked comfortable around the remodelled Yas Marina circuit, which has been speeded up in the hope of improving the quality of the action on a track that has a reputation for producing boring races.
Hamilton’s time was good enough to go within three-hundredths of a second faster, but he exceeded track limits leading to his time being deleted. It sets the sport up for another weekend which will be about fine margins, as Hamilton and Verstappen fight for the title.
The second Red Bull of Sergio Perez was fourth fastest, he was only eight-thousandths of a second behind Hamilton. But the early signs for the championship decider suggests there is very little between Red Bull and Mercedes. The reprofiled circuit appears to be eleven seconds faster than last year.
Yuki Tsunoda was fifth fastest three tenths off the pace, going two tenths faster than teammate Pierre Gasly, but they were split by the Alpine of Fernando Alonso. The two Ferrari’s didn’t set a time in the first quarter of the session, but Carlos Sainz despite in the early part of the session reporting his car felt “quite bad”, but was able to improve his lap time in the closing minutes, to go ninth four hundredths behind teammate Charles Leclerc.
Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top ten going just under two hundredths of a second faster than Esteban Ocon. The Alpine driver narrowly missing the wall and got stuck in neutral early in the session, which forced him to slow on track and complete a fix before getting up to speed again.
Lando Norris was twelfth going seven hundredths faster than the two Alfa Romeo’s. Despite a spin, Kimi Raikkonen was just over two tenths ahead of his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. Lance Stroll was fourteenth going seven-hundredths of a second faster than the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo.
Jack Aitken made his only practice outing of the season for Williams, finishing the session seventeenth, six thousandths ahead of teammate Nicolas Latifi. Mick Schumacher was six tenths ahead of his Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin.