Both Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton topped the times in practice for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In FP1 Vettel edged out Hamilton by a tenth with Max Verstappen a further tenth behind. While in FP2, Hamilton was a tenth faster than Vettel.
Mercedes v Ferrari
The title maybe wrapped up but both the leading teams appear very evenly matched on circuit. Abu Dhabi is a circuit which is a little difficult to read either way for two reasons sector two has that long straight which is favourable to Mercedes. But as they come around into the third sector is slower and more like a street circuit.
The other factor is that this is a day/night race and we saw in Bahrain that flip between day and night. So with the championship settled I feel this could be another close race, Red Bull are also going to be part of that battle as they have not been far off the pace either.
We saw in FP2, that Hamilton, Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo covered by three tenths of a second. But you need to just bear in mind they were all testing 2018 parts.
Hamilton said “We got all the running done we needed to get done. It was a nice, clean Friday. But there’s only a tenth between us. It’s close – and it’s good that it’s close.”
“I think Red Bull have a bit more to come – as do we. Between us and Ferrari, it’s closer than you think. The set-up changes overnight will be crucial.”
Vettel said “I think it will be close – and the Red Bull was very close. Usually a Saturday, it looks a bit different and the Red Bull drops back. We will see. This is a tricky and long lap, so it’s difficult to get everything right.”
Force India best of the rest
Force India has emerged as the best of the rest as you would expect given the team’s performance this season. The team was four tenths off Verstappen’s Red Bull, but we know that they will not be challenging Red Bull on pace. In FP2, both cars looked evenly matched on pace and we saw both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon within a few thousandths of a second.
Perez said “We had a lot of test items to try on the car today on top of the usual preparations for the weekend. First practice was not very representative of the conditions we will experience in qualifying and the race, but what we saw during second practice makes me feel optimistic.”
“The balance of the car is where I need it and the long run pace is competitive. There is still a little bit of work to do, but we’re starting from a good baseline and if we can improve overnight we should be in a good position tomorrow.”
We know over the past few seasons Force India are able to punch well above their weight in result and I feel they will be leading the midfield fight this weekend.
McLaren made a strong start in FP1 being just inside the top ten and in FP2 they were hovering around tenth place. McLaren, we know loose out on that long straight between Seven and Eight, but I feel the team will be satisfied by that result given the lack of straight-line speed.
The team also had a productive day they were not hampered by reliability problems and we did see them make progress on lap times. But like most teams, their focus was on developing next years car.
Alonso said “We had a productive day today. No matter how many points we might take on Sunday, the Constructors’ Championship positions seem to already be decided, so for the last couple of races our main priority on Fridays has been testing new items.”
“For tomorrow, making it into Q3 and scoring points on Sunday remain the target, but it’s going to be challenging. We saw today that we’re in a very tight group in the middle of the pack with two Williams, two Renaults and two Force Indias.”
Vandoorne added “It’s been quite a productive day. We felt quite comfortable in the car and as usual it looks very close in the midfield – we’re in a very tight battle with Force India, Renault and Williams.”
Hartley awarded grid penalty
Toro Rosso has been forced to change another element on Brendon Hartley’s car. The team’s engine supplier has been struggling to find parts to keep all the engines going.
Hartley has already had grid penalties of between 10 and 25 places at each of his three races so far.
Tomorrows’ qualifying is looking as we will see a number of battle across the field. At the front, it is appearing as it will be a fight between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but I have a feeling that Mercedes will have the slight edge in the cooler qualifying session.
The midfield is also looking as if that could be a tight fight as Force India, Renault is appearing as they could be in that mix as well.