Sebastian Vettel set the pace on the opening day of 2019 Pirelli tire testing in Abu Dhabi, despite crashing on Tuesday.
Just after midday, Vettel spun at Turn 1 and went backward into the barriers, damaging his rear wing. The contact was light enough that Vettel could recover to the pit lane under his own power — cutting half of the track to do so — and rejoin later in the day to go fastest on a 1m36.812s.
Although lap times are largely irrelevant in a test run by Pirelli, as teams were using both this year’s compounds and next year’s new tires for comparison, the tire manufacturer confirmed that with the exception of Max Verstappen, all drivers used either this year’s hypersoft or next year’s equivalent for their best laps. Verstappen was fourth fastest on ultrasofts behind Lance Stroll, who caught the eye on his first Force India outing as the Canadian was third quickest behind Valtteri Bottas.
Stroll took over from Sergio Perez for the afternoon session at the Yas Marina Circuit and was the only driver making improvements under the floodlights in the final 15 minutes of running, which were comparable conditions to qualifying on Saturday night. Although the track has been rubbered in significantly more since then, it’s worth noting Stroll was 1.2 seconds quicker on Tuesday for Force India than his fastest qualifying lap on hypersoft tires for Williams.
While Stroll stood out, the main point of interest surrounded Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Sauber. Raikkonen used a modified helmet design and wore plain overalls, having been allowed to test by Ferrari, and managed over 100 laps for his new team before his running was cut short when he stopped at the hairpin with less than an hour remaining.
Raikkonen was 11th on the timing screens at the end of the day, ahead of only Sean Gelael in the Toro Rosso. Gelael was over half a second adrift but completed exactly 150 laps for Pirelli, the highest mileage of Tuesday.
Aside from Raikkonen and Stroll, McLaren ran one of its 2019 drivers in Lando Norris — who was sixth overall and completed 136 laps — while Williams also had both of next year’s race drivers sharing duties on the first day. George Russell drove in the morning and posted a 1m39.512s on his first outing in the FW41, with Robert Kubica then beating him by a quarter of a second during 32 laps of running in the afternoon.
There were three red flags, with Vettel and Raikkonen’s incidents being preceded by Pietro Fittipaldi stopping on track two hours into running. Oil on the track betrayed a technical issue, and Haas confirmed it needed to change the power unit, losing half a day.
Fittipaldi did return to action in the closing stages and managed 56 laps in total, finishing eighth overall on his F1 debut.