Verstappen leads first Abu Dhabi practice

Charles Coates/Motorsport Images

Verstappen leads first Abu Dhabi practice

Formula 1

Verstappen leads first Abu Dhabi practice

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Max Verstappen put Red Bull Racing on top for first practice at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Dutchman used the soft tire in the second half of the session to set the benchmark at 1m37.378s, usurping Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas by 0.034s.

Renault’s Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon in the second Red Bull Racing car were more than 1.1s off the pace in third and fourth.

Lewis Hamilton, returning to the paddock after missing last weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix with COVID-19, was fifth fastest and 1.3s adrift after missing much of the first half of the session with a brake master cylinder problem.

The final FP1 of the season was generally subdued. The opening practice session at the twilight Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is run in the full daylight of the early afternoon, making running unrepresentative of qualifying and race conditions.

The light of day showed off the amenities at Yas Marina Circuit but limited the session’s utility for race prep. Zak Mauger/Motorsport Images

Instead, the first part of the 90 minutes was used as a de facto 2021 test, with all manner of aero rakes and splashes of flow-vis decorating the cars. Ferrari was spotted running a prototype of next year’s lower-downforce floor, while Red Bull Racing appeared to be running a hybrid for analysis.

Racing Point teammates Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez were 1.4s and 1.5s off the pace respectively.

Perez — first-time winner last weekend but still without an F1 contract for 2021 — was running a new internal combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H, having lost a power unit in a fiery failure in Bahrain two weeks ago.

The extra elements are above his season’s allocation, which will send him to the back of the grid for the start of the race, a potential concern for the team as it seeks to defend its 10-point hold on third in the constructors standings over McLaren.

AlphaTauri duo Daniil Kvyat — also without a contract for 2021 — and Pierre Gasly were eighth and ninth and closely matched at 1.7s off the pace. Kimi Raikkonen completed the top 10 for Alfa Romeo at 1.8s adrift.

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were a distant 11th and 13th and 1.9s off the pace, Norris complaining of oversteer through every corner during his early laps. They were split by Ferrari Charles Leclerc’ in 12th. Sebastian Vettel steered the second red car to 14th, though he was 0.3s behind the trio battling ahead of him.

Robert Kubica made his fifth practice appearance of the season for Alfa Romeo, ending his run in 15th place.

George Russell returned to Williams after his Mercedes sojourn last weekend to finish the session 16th and 3s down, with teammate Nicholas Latifi following him in 17th.

The new Formula 2 champion, Mick Schumacher, made his Formula 1 debut for Haas, his team for 2021, with 18th on the time sheet. The son of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher was commandeering Kevin Magnussen’s car, which was equipped with new power unit elements that will earn the Dane a back-of-grid start on Sunday.

Pietro Fittipaldi, the Brazilian replacing Romain Grosjean in the final two rounds of the year as the Frenchman recovers from burns to his hands after his fiery crash in Bahrain, followed in 19th in the second Haas.

Daniel Ricciardo finished at the foot of the time sheet without a time and with just three laps to his name after a fuel pressure problem. Renault confirmed the Australian was using a practice engine at the end of its life that was due to be changed overnight.

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