Mercedes Valtteri Bottas set the pace during first practice ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Finn went over half a second faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, however, the afternoon session normally is irrelevant in terms of giving a read on competitiveness because it is run in the early afternoon, whereas qualifying and race are at twilight.
Bottas set his fastest time on the medium tyre, halfway through the session. He outpaced his teammate Lewis Hamilton by six tenths midway through the afternoon.
Red Bull’s Alex Albon was fourth fastest, ahead of Sebastian Vettel. The Ferrari driver had a difficult afternoon and was over a second off the pace.
Things did not get any better for the new father, he spun the car into the barrier when he lost the rear of his car at Turn 19, the final left-hander of the lap, with two minutes remaining. The Ferrari swapped ends and rolled backwards into the barrier on the outside, bringing out a second red flag and ending the session early.
It had been set up for some quick late runs, however, the session was red-flagged with half an hour to go, Daniel Ricciardo suffering a failure. Ricciardo was on a fast lap but on the entry to the final corner his car emitted a plume of fluid, two bursts of flames and some shrapnel from the apparently-detonated engine.
Hamilton also had his own issues, the six-time champion was forced to return to the pits before the team found that the issue was only with the sensor. While Vettel’s teammate was fifth, Charles Leclerc was almost two seconds off the pace.
Haas’s Romain Grosjean managed to split the Ferrari’s, the Frenchman two tenths off Vettel and a tenth ahead of Leclerc. That should be an encouraging start given the teams rocky season. They remain ninth in the constructors.
Ahead of next weeks final test, many of the teams tried out development parts for next season. They will continue with this at next weeks post season tyre test.
Antonio Giovinazzi and Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten, the Alfa going seven hundredths quicker than the German. Neither of the McLaren’s could make it into the top ten, Lando Norris going eleventh fastest over a tenth behind Hulkenberg.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll was twelfth, two hundredths ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, his teammate Sergio Perez was three-hundredths slower. Daniil Kvyat was four-tenths ahead of his teammate Pierre Gasly. Carlos Sainz was seventeenth.
Despite health concerns, George Russell made it out on the track. But the Williams driver was four seconds off the pace slowest, however, the Englishman completed more laps than any other driver.