With an end of term feeling in the paddock, scores still to settle, and teams and drivers wanting to go out on a high, the F1 circus arrives in Abu Dhabi for the final race of the F1 2017 season. And for the final time this season drivers took to the track for the Friday Free Practice Session.
In Free Practice One the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheet with a 1:39.006 at the Yas Marina Circuit to edge out the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. While the Ferrari may be ahead of the Mercedes and Red Bull, the top three drivers were separated by under a tenth and a half of a second, leading many pundits to suggest this bodes well as a sign for a competitive weekend. Red Bull in particular were happy with the close proximity of their car to the Mercedes of Hamilton, with just under three thousandths of a second separating them.
Critically the circuit has many low speed corners like Mexico and Malaysia did, two circuits Red Bull have won at this season. With that in mind, despite the engine deficit the Renault has to the Ferrari and Mercedes, the team are confident that with the right conditions they can be brought into contention for race day.
The Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen finished the session in fourth place over half a second behind his team mate with Valtteri Bottas in fifth in his Mercedes. Both Finns were used by their respective teams to evaluate parts for the 2018 cars by the looks of it. Especially as the early afternoon running of the session is rather unrepresentative compared to the twilight race on Sunday. Raikkonen was running an eye catching “Red Bull” style diffuser on the back of his Ferrari while Bottas was the latest driver to trial the Halo head protection device that will become standard on all cars for the 2018 season.
The Force India of Sergio Perez impressed in sixth, while the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were seventh and eighth respectively on the teams last weekend with Honda engine power for the foreseeable future. Despite being over a second and a half slower than Vettel’s leading pace, it is worth noting in Free Practice One in Australia the fastest McLaren was nearly three seconds slower. Showing there has been some improvement over the season.
Felipe Massa was ninth for Williams in his final race for the Grove based team before he retires once again from Formula 1. While good friend Daniel Ricciardo lined up tenth in his Red Bull following a difficult session for the Australian.
The 2017 GP3 champion George Russell was once again running in a practice session for the Force India replacing Esteban Ocon for the morning session. He finished an impressive 11th overall for the team, and just under a second off of team mate Perez’s fastest time of the session.
Not all of the 2017 champions on the grid had the same luck however, as fresh from being announced as a full time Toro Rosso driver for 2018, the 2017 World Endurance Champion Brendon Hartley was made aware he would have a grid penalty. The team chose to introduce a ninth MGU-H of the season onto the particular car in question. Grid demotions have become a permanent feature in the New Zealander’s F1 career so far with each of his four F1 outings being curtailed by engine related demotions.
Free Practice Two saw another close fight between the Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull drivers, however it was the Mercedes of Hamilton that triumphed in the end to set a new lap record on his way to the top of the timesheet.
The 2017 F1 world champion set a lap of 1:37.877 to finish a tenth and a half ahead of Vettel in the Ferrari, and three tenths of a second ahead of Ricciardo in third. Critically for Ricciardo he finished ahead of Raikkonen in fourth, who he is hunting down in the championship this weekend for fourth place. While Bottas and Verstappen both suffered disappointing sessions to finish fifth and sixth respectively.
The long run pace of the teams was definitely one to watch in this session, as Hamilton was initially nine tenths faster than Vettel on the supersoft tyre. When the teams put on the ultrasoft tyres though the gap closed significantly, with Bottas and Raikkonen split by just two tenths of a second on the same tyre compound. The Red Bull of Ricciardo also put in some impressive lap times suggesting that the Red Bull is still a contender for the race on Sunday. Ricciardo also put in some strong lap times late in the session, to suggest Red Bull may be closer to their rivals come Sunday’s race.
Force India had another impressive session finishing once again as best of the rest behind the top three teams. Impressively for them just one hundredth of a second split their two drivers in seventh and eighth, with Perez finishing ahead of Ocon respectively.
The Renault of Nico Hulkenberg finished the session in ninth in what could be a critical move in the Constructors Championship. Currently the Renault team are embroiled in a battle with Toro Rosso and Haas for sixth in the Constructors Championship with it all still to play for this weekend.
Hulkenberg’s team mate Carlos Sainz was 13th, while the Toro Rosso’s of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley were 15th and 19th respectively. The Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were 16th and 20th, with Grosjean’s session interrupted by a spin which then ended prematurely by an electrical issue.
The McLaren of Alonso rounded out the top ten ahead of the Williams of Massa, and his fellow McLaren team mate Vandoorne.
With scores to settle and qualifying critical round the Yas Marina circuit expect teams and drivers to be giving it their all tomorrow.
Abu Dhabi Free Practice One Timesheet
1) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: 1:39.006
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: + 0.120
3) Max Verstappen, Red Bull: + 0.148
4) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: + 0.512
5) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: + 0.735
6) Sergio Perez, Force India: + 1.287
7) Fernando Alonso, McLaren: + 1.516
8) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren: + 1.563
9) Felipe Massa, Williams: + 1.717
10) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: + 1.767
11) George Russell, Force India: + 2.215
12) Romain Grosjean, Haas: + 2.300
13) Lance Stroll, Williams: + 2.575
13) Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso: + 2.640
14) Carlos Sainz, Renault: + 2.742
15) Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber: + 2.746
16) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: + 2.858
18) Antonio Giovinazzi, Haas: + 3.059
19) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: + 3.338
20) Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso: + 3.579
Abu Dhabi Free Practice Two Timesheet
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: 1:37.877
2) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: +0.149
3) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: +0.303
4) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: +0.475
5) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: +0.660
6) Max Verstappen, Red Bull: +1.017
7) Sergio Perez, Force India: +1.446
8) Esteban Ocon, Force India: +1.456
9) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: +1.652
10) Fernando Alonso, McLaren: +1.682
11) Felipe Massa, Williams: +1.758
12) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren: +1.794
13) Carlos Sainz, Renault: +2.324
14) Lance Stroll, Williams: +2.452
15) Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso: +2.817
16) Kevin Magnussen, Haas: +3.251
17) Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber: +3.393
18) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: +3.425
19) Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso: +3.619
20) Romain Grosjean, Haas: +3.683