Sebastian Vettel led a Red Bull one-two in practice for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina.
The German circulated in 1:41.335 on the soft tyres in the evening session under the lights with team-mate Mark Webber just over a tenth behind, Lewis Hamilton was best of the rest three-and-a-half tenths off the newly crowned champion in his Mercedes.
The afternoon session took place in blazing desert conditions with temperatures in the mid-30s in the air and near 50 degrees on the track and as is always the case the sandy track meant grip was very poor.
In a session dominated with driver’s running wide at the various chicanes around the circuit it was Romain Grosjean who emerged on top for Lotus as the issues surrounding his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen were put to one side.
Lewis Hamilton pipped Vettel to second with Webber, Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg completing the top six.
The biggest surprise from the opening session was the poor pace of Ferrari, despite a trouble free session Fernando Alonso could only finish 12th with Felipe Massa down in 17th.
At the end of the session a rare incident occurred with Vettel as the German misjudged the braking on the dusty pitlane surface, locked his brakes and slid into a mechanic, no damage
was done however.
Three reserve drivers made an appearance, James Calado returned for Force India and despite an penalty in GP2 practice costing a chance of that championship he had a strong showing in 14th albeit nearly a second behind team-mate Paul di Resta.
Heikki Kovalainen was back in the Caterham however he was beaten by regular driver Charles Pic though only by a tenth of a second, while Rodolfo Gonzalez was in the Marussia coming in last by almost two seconds.
The evening session began as the sun set in Abu Dhabi, temperatures were much more comfortable and the lights of Yas Marina added the unique atmosphere of the event.
The session as always began with a run on the prime tyres which McLaren led early on through Sergio Perez, however as the other top teams came out it was Vettel who just beat the two Mercedes’ with Webber and Lotus also close behind.
Raikkonen was the first man onto the soft tyres finding over 1.5 seconds dropping the lap times into the 1:41′s. Then Hamilton moved ahead of the Lotus with a 1:41.690 but
he would be beaten by both Red Bull’s firstly Mark Webber with a 1:41.490 and then Vettel who set a 1:41.335 on his second run to set the benchmark heading into the weekend.
After leading the first session Grosjean slipped to 12th unable to complete a long run after a brake problem on his Lotus, while Ferrari improved marginally Alonso taking 8th and Massa
There would be plenty of small incidents in the second session with Paul di Resta suffering a puncture on the long straight to turn eight, he would recover back to the pits and Jenson Button
also had a similar puncture but again no real damage or danger was caused.
Max Chilton lost a piece of his brake duct at the 11,12,13 chicane complex causing a brief yellow flag to recover the debris, the Briton would then lose the rear of the car in a separate
incident spinning on the exit of turn one.
Finally the session ended with the usual race simulation and after the fragility of the soft tyres in India, in Abu Dhabi there was no such problems, there was a graining phase where the tyre bubbled up causing marbles but once that was cleared the tyres ran well with a one or two stop strategy likely in the race on Sunday.
An action packed day but with similar results the gap however does seem less than in recent races and we should be set for a close weekend’s racing in Abu Dhabi.
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