ABU DHABI STARTS WITH A DEBUTANTE BALL
The first free practice session for the final round of the Formula 1 season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, featured no fewer than ten “rookie” drivers on track. Best of the bunch was Brazil’s Felipe Drugovich, the winner of last year’s FIA Formula 2 Championship who finished the hour second fastest in the Aston Martin usually driven by Fernando Alonso. His best time of 1’26”360 was a bit less than three tenths slower than George Russell in the Mercedes, who topped the time sheet in 1’26”072. Five of the rookies - Doohan, Hadjar, Vesti, Pourchaire and Bearman – had a particularly busy day as they also had to tackle free practice and qualifying for the final Formula 2 round of the season.
The session was interrupted twice by red flags. The first was brought out when Carlos Sainz crashed into the barriers at turn 3 just over eight minutes into the session. The track was open again after 27 minutes, but only for a couple of minutes before Nico Hulkenberg also hit the barriers after spinning on the exit to the first corner. The session resumed with 16 minutes to go. Quickest was Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) in 1’24”809, 43 thousandths better than Lando Norris, second for McLaren.
THE DAY ON TRACK
It was a yellow and red-tinged day given that only 21 laps were completed on the C3 compound, the hardest available here in Yas Marina, all those laps courtesy of Alfa Romeo: 9 for Zhou in FP1 and 12 for Bottas in FP2.
The track was only open for just under 27 minutes in the second session and very few drivers ran with a high fuel load. The longest stint of all came from Sargeant (12 consecutive laps on a set of Mediums), while the hardest working on the Soft were Leclerc, Zhou and Stroll, all doing 11 consecutive laps. In fact, only Piastri, Magnussen and Albon got into double figures, doing ten laps each on the Medium.
SIMONE BERRA – CHIEF ENGINEER
“Today’s sessions left many questions unanswered, at least in terms of the tyres. Despite this weekend running to the “classic” format, the first session was rather unusual, given that half the cars on track were entrusted to the young drivers, who by the very nature of their role, would have run to a slightly different programme to that which their regular race drivers would have undertaken. The second session, starting as the sun began to set with temperatures that were therefore dropping to ten degrees lower than in the first one, was twice interrupted, making it even more complicated to draw any conclusions relating to tyre behaviour. The numbers sum it up, with a total of 318 laps covered in FP2 today, compared to 543 last year.
Given the choices made by the teams, the Hard, which was used by just one team, would seem to be the clear favourite for the race. From what we have seen, there was a bit of graining, but the track is rubbering-in quite quickly so this situation could improve. The many laps completed on the Soft and Medium have at least allowed us to establish the gap between these two compounds at around half a second.”
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