Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was fastest in the first practice session ahead of this weekend Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The German set a thirty-nine zero to edge out his former title rival Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel set his best lap after Hamilton, going one tenth faster. However he set his best lap well after the other top drivers Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who was third fastest. There was little between the top three, with them all being separated by less than two tenths of a second.
Going into this weekend it was expected that without the championships on the line all the top teams would allow the drivers to race. Hamilton led the early pace on the slowest compound of tyres softs, while his teammate Valtteri Bottas doing his work on the supersofts.
Bottas was good early on in the session, setting the early pace until Hamilton went half a second faster than his teammate. But on his final run, he was unable to improve. But as ever the first practice and especially this weekend as the race takes place at dusk doesn’t give a real picture of the true pace of the front-runners.
Many teams used the session as a test ahead of next weeks post season test by taking the opportunity to evaluate new parts with 2018 in mind.
Force India’s Sergio Perez was the best of the rest, going faster than both the McLaren’s of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. However the Mexican was a second off Vettel’s fastest lap, but he was two tenths faster than the McLaren.
Felipe Massa was ninth fastest with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top ten. The new GP3 champion George Russell, who was fifth in practice for GP3 earlier in the day, had to settle for eleventh. The Englishman was nine-tenths off teammate Perez.
Despite a spin, Haas’s Romain Grosjean finished twelfth fastest as the American team looks to fend off Renault and Toro Rosso in the constructors’ championship.
New Zealander Brendon Hartley was slowest for Toro Rosso, with team-mate Pierre Gasly fourteenth. Hartley has a 10-place grid penalty for using too many engine parts, a ninth example of the MGU-H, the part of the hybrid system that recovers energy from the turbo.
Just ahead of him was the Williams of Lance Stroll, who was eight tenths off his teammate, the Canadian being down on power following his gearbox failure at the last race in Brazil.
Pierre Gasly was fourteenth fastest ahead of both the Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg. The two teams are currently locked in a very tight battle for sixth in the constructors.
Hulkenberg also had a quick spin out of Turn 14 at the end of the complex that follows the track’s second long straight.
While the times look close, Renault did not use the ultra-soft compound tyre, which should be worth an extra eight tenths in performance.