As the Formula One World Driver’s Championship comes to its climax for a duel in the desert, Lewis Hamitlon has started the weekend on the front foot by finishing Free Practice One fastest.
Mercedes appeared to be in a class of their own during the 90-minute session as the fastest lap was swapped between Hamitlon and Championship rival Nico Rosberg. It was advantage Rosberg in the opening half of the session as he was two-tenths up on Hamitlon using the ultra soft tyres before improving to an impressive eight-tenth pace advantage.
It was after the lull in action where the tyres get handed back to Pirelli and the drivers move onto their allocation of tyres that Hamilton picked up the pace. He managed to go 0.374 seconds faster than teammate Rosberg, setting a 1:42.869. This would be the fastest lap of the session.
Although the first Friday practice session at Abu Dhabi usually gives a lot of unnesercay data (as it is the only session ran where conditions are not relatable to that of race day conditions), its all important for the Mercedes duo this weekend. 12 points separate Hamilton and Rosberg, with Rosberg only needing to end up on the podium to secure his maiden Championship. If Hamilton does not finish on the podium then it does not matter where Rosberg finishes, the German driver will become World Champion.
Mercedes pace in the first practice session and the advantage they have over the field shows that Rosberg should not have any issues, on pace and performace alone, in scoring the podium he needs to win the title.
One thing that cannot be forgotten is the threat from behind. Both Red Bull drivers will be after any chance to get a podium if not a win this weekend, with Max Verstappen being very openly keen to take the final win of the season. The duo were half a tenth off of the pace of th Brakely team and appear to be Mercedes closest, and maybe only, threat this weekend. Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo were split by two hundreths of a second showing the competition between the pair is close. Verstappen finsihed thrid ahead of his Australian teammate.
The Ferrari duo came next but they do not appear to be fighting for any podiums from the performance shown in this session. Sebastian Vettel finished ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who was in seventh, 1.136 seconds off the pace. The deficit had been 1.5 seconds but track evolution saw the cars picking up more speed as the session went on. Sergio Perez split the Ferraris for sixth.
Carlos Sainz Jr was in the mix for the top ten, with an interesting show of performance from the car running a 2015 Ferrari engine. He finished ahead of Felipe Massa – who is competing in his 250th and final Grand Prix weekend this weekend – and Marcus Ericsson, rounding off the top ten.
Alfonso Celis Jr showed an impressive performance as he took the wheel of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India. He had been running in ninth before some improvements from behind him dropped him to 11th. He was 1.4 seconds slower than Perez but had an impressive performce for his Friday practice session.
Jordan King also stood in for the morning practice session, taking Esteban Ocon’s Manor. He finished 21st, only ahead of Daniil Kvyat who only managed to set one lap time before he picked up a puncture than forced him to sit the rest of the session out.
There were a few spins at the hairpin, with King, Massa and Hamitlon all becoming victims of the slippery corner. A similar reccuring incident was seen in the GP2 practice session that was run before the Formula One track time. The track surface there could be slippery or maybe slightly unlevel.
Once again, Romain Grosjean had an issue with his Haas’ brakes. The Frenchman finished 12th fastest after his brakes failed on the run into Turn 1. He locked up his tyres and slid straight on at the first corner, very lucky to not plant the car into the tyre barrier. Grosjean reported that he had lost the car three times on left handers before he had his big spin at Turn 1. The incident brought an end to Grosjean’s session early, with the French driver radioning the team and telling them to sort this issue out. With the amount of times it has reoccured it is no wonder Grosjean is getting a bit frustrated with the issue.