Abu Dhabi GP: Verstappen lays down benchmark in opening practice ahead of title showdown

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives at the Yas Marina Circuit during the first free practice session of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Friday. (AFP)
Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives at the Yas Marina Circuit during the first free practice session of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Friday. (AFP)

Verstappen and Hamilton head into Sunday’s race, a winner-takes all showdown, level on points, with the Dutchman ahead 9-8 on wins



By Reuters

Published: Fri 10 Dec 2021, 3:57 PM

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the early pace ahead of his Formula One title showdown with Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton by going fastest in Friday’s opening practice for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Dutchman, who complained of an incorrectly fitted steering wheel, lapped the revised 5.2-km long Yas Marina track in one minute, 25.009 seconds — 0.196 seconds quicker than the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas with Hamilton third.

Hamilton had initially set a lap that was less than half-a-tenth slower than Verstappen’s benchmark and the pair looked set to end the first hour of practice neck and neck.

But that time was deleted as the Briton was found to have exceeded track limits, with the 36-year-old’s next best effort — 0.346 seconds adrift of Verstappen — counting as his fastest of the session.

Verstappen and Hamilton head into Sunday’s race, a winner-takes all showdown, level on points, with the Dutchman ahead 9-8 on wins.

The 24-year-old Verstappen will win the title if neither score. The pair have collided on track three times already this season.

The governing FIA has warned of severe consequences for unsportsmanlike behaviour, including a points deduction.

Sergio Perez was fourth for Red Bull ahead of Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda for sister team AlphaTauri.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso, who took a brief turn at the top of the timesheets, was sixth for Alpine.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly in the other AlphaTauri was seventh ahead of Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top-10 for Aston Martin.

Williams reserve Jack Aitken replaced Mercedes-bound George Russell for the opening session just five months after having suffered a broken collarbone and fractured vertebra at the Spa 24 hours sportscar race in Belgium.

He was 17th, ahead of teammate Nicholas Latifi.

Kimi Raikkonen, taking part in his final two sessions of Friday practice, ahead of retirement at the end of the season, was 13th for Alfa Romeo.

Friday’s session, which was largely uneventful, was run in the bright afternoon sunshine, with Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race starting at dusk.


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