Verstappen leads opening Abu Dhabi GP practice

Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

Verstappen leads opening Abu Dhabi GP practice

Formula 1

Verstappen leads opening Abu Dhabi GP practice


Max Verstappen claimed top spot in first practice at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton had his best time deleted for exceeding track limits.

The Dutchman used two sets of soft-compound tires to set a time of 1m 25.009s, pipping Valtteri Bottas by 0.196s despite complaining of a right-leaning steering wheel during the first half of the session.

Lewis Hamilton had taken second spot with a fresh set of softs of his own to trail Verstappen by just 0.033s, but the time was erased for running wide exiting the last corner, dropping him to third and 0.346s short of his title rival. Sergio Perez completed the top four just 0.008s further adrift.

Verstappen and Hamilton are tied in the championship standings heading into the final round of 2021, with Verstappen leading the standings thanks to his nine wins to Hamilton’s eight. Mercedes leads Red Bull Racing by 28 points.

Mercedes had dominated Yas Marina from 2014 until Red Bull Racing’s surprise victory in Abu Dhabi last season, after both championships had already been decided and Hamilton was still recovering from a COVID infection. But the circuit has been revised since last season, with five corners expunged from the layout that had been used since the track’s inauguration in 2009. Drivers therefore spent the hour-long first session, run in the unrepresentative sunshine of mid-afternoon ahead of a cooler twilight race, acclimatizing to the modifications.

The new configuration is considerably faster than the old, with Verstappen’s quickest time almost 10s faster than the previous outright record, set by Hamilton with his pole lap in 2019.

Yuki Tsunoda was best of the rest in fifth, but his 0.015s gap to Perez in his AlphaTauri was instructive of how the session’s times were of questionable significance. Fernando Alonso split from his teammate, Pierre Gasly, with Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz following in eighth and ninth.

Sebastian Vettel completed the top 10 after a late spin over the curbs and through the run-off at Turn 15.

Esteban Ocon recovered from a gearbox issue early through some steering wheel inputs to finish 11th ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, while outbound Alfa Romeo teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were 13th and 14th.

Lance Stroll was 15th ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. Williams junior Jack Aitken piloted George Russel’s car for the first time since his surprise race appearance at the 2019 Sakhir Grand Prix to finish the session 17th ahead of temporary teammate Nicholas Latifi.

Has teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin rounded out the order in 19th and 20th.