Charles Leclerc was fastest in a disrupted second practice for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver set a 24.809 on the soft tyre which put him just over four hundredths faster than the Lando Norris after setting his fastest time in the closing moments of the session.
Max Verstappen put his Red Bull third the three times champion over a tenth behind Norris. The Dutchman appeared at one stage to be unhappy with the car complaining it was “bouncing like a kangaroo” in the final sector of the lap around the marina.
Verstappen was visibly aggrieved on the first restart to the session with the Williams duo attempting to blend into the queue to leave the pitlane, asking for their actions to be reported. He then threaded his way past both Mercedes as he believed he was being blocked on the second restart.
Drivers however only had a third of the hour of track running because of numerous red flags, Leclerc setting his fastest time to go fastest in the final five minutes. This not ideal given several drivers missed FP1 because of a young driver running leaving them with only half an hour of running.
A late improvement saw Valtteri Bottas leap up to fourth the Alfa Romeo going four-tenths faster than Sergio Perez. While Leclerc topped the times his teammate Carlos Sainz cost the drivers half of the hour long session after he crashed heavily at Turn Three bringing out the red flag.
The Spaniard had a snap of oversteer at Turn Three that sent him into the wall bringing out the red flag, Sainz believes that was caused by dirty air from the car in front and a bump in the circuit.
He was following an Alpha Tauri car at the time, and Sainz reported to his team over the radio: “Dirty air from the car gave me a massive snap. Dirty air and the bump, I think.”
George Russel put his Mercedes sixth three-tenths off the pace, as he went faster than Guanyu Zhou by over a tenth and a half as the Chinese driver spilt the Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton nearly a tenth behind. Pierre Gasly was ninth putting himself four hundredths ahead of Oscar Piastri as the rounded out the top ten.
The truncated session meant teams and drivers had very little time to set up their cars and none managed to do the usual race-simulation runs, so there was little indication as to potential form for the weekend. But the data gathered by teams, particularly on high-fuel long race-style runs, is nowhere near what it would usually be on a Friday.
This isn’t ideal with millions of pounds worth of prize money to be decided this weekend and the battle for fourth and fifth in the drivers. The key battle is for the runner up spot, Mercedes leads Ferrari by four points in the constructors both teams want the money as well as a morale boost after difficult seasons.
Like in Vegas, FP1 was not the most reprehensive session not because of the number of rookies but because it takes place in the warmest part of the day. But the twilight FP2 session is cooler the time of the race and qualifying.
although all the usual race drivers were back in their respective cockpits for the later session, the red flag delays that ate up nearly half the session meant they could not complete their usual long running which is crucial for the race.
While Red Bull remains the team to beat, McLaren appears back in the mix following a difficult race in Vegas Ferrari have the momentum after a stronger second part of the season following a series of upgrades that have improved their difficult car. Verstappen, aiming to end his dominant season with a record-extending nineteenth win, said Red Bull had work to do to get the RB19’s handling under control.
There is also some uncertainty over fourth place, with McLaren eleven points ahead of Aston Martin. At the back, the bottom four teams – Williams, Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas – are covered by just sixteen points.
Fernando Alonso was eleventh going three and a half hundredths behind Piastri, and Daniel Ricciardo split the two Aston Martins. The Australian was seven hundredths behind Alonso and ahead of the two-time champions teammate Lance Stroll, by a hundredth and a half.
Esteban Ocon going fourteenth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and Alex Albon. Kevin Magnussen going seventeenth, the Haas driver splitting the Williams going three tenths behind Albon and ahead of Logan Sargeant by just under a quarter of a second. Sainz’s only time before his crash left him nineteenth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.