Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo comfortably led the way during first practice for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
During a somewhat unrepresentative session — taking place in afternoon 86-degree F heat and sunshine compared to the sunset qualifying and race times — it was Verstappen who set the pace for Red Bull with a 1m38.491s. That left him nearly half a second clear of teammate Daniel Ricciardo in what is the Australian’s final race for the team, with Valtteri Bottas a similar distance back in third place.
Bottas was struggling with the handling of his Mercedes, running off track on a number of occasions, but he was still the only driver within a second of the Red Bulls as Lewis Hamilton was 1.052s adrift after saying he was driving “quite an unhappy car” early on.
Of some solace to Mercedes will be the tire compounds used, with Red Bull on the hypersofts while Bottas set his best time on supersoft tires — the hardest available this weekend — and Hamilton on ultrasofts.
There was a break from the normal order with Esteban Ocon fifth head of Kevin Magnussen, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel seventh and eighth despite all four using the hypersoft tire. In a sign of how teams use the unrepresentative track conditions for testing, Ferrari was the best part of two seconds off the pace as Raikkonen evaluated a modified front wing to simulate an aspect of the 2019 regulations.
Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top 10, although Sainz ended his session with a spin at Turn 19 — the exit under the hotel — and bumped the barrier on the outside of the track with his rear wing.
The Spaniard was not the only driver to suffer damage during a spin, with Marcus Ericsson losing control on the exit of Turn 1 and sliding to the inside, hitting the barrier with his front wing before limping back to the pits. Ericsson ended up 17th after the error, one position and 0.3s behind 2019 Sauber driver Antonio Giovinazzi.
Behind the two Saubers came the McLaren pair of Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso, with the latter taking part in the final race weekend of his Formula 1 career. Running a special livery to mark the occasion, Alonso had an off-track moment at the penultimate corner, bouncing across the exit curb after losing the rear on entry.
That curb was the focus of much attention during the opening practice session, with early damage after one car ran wide leading to the curb breaking up slightly, forcing drivers to give it a wide berth.
Aside from Giovinazzi, Robert Kubica was the only other replacement driver during FP1 as he took over the Williams from Sergey Sirotkin ahead of his return to a race seat in 2019. Kubica was slowest of the 20 runners at the end of the session, 1.5 seconds adrift of Lance Stroll in 15th.