back in familiar environs at Abu Dhabi GP


Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas drives during the second practice session in Abu Dhabi. — AFP
Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas drives during the second practice session in Abu Dhabi. — AFP

Abu Dhabi - Bottas topped the timesheets with a best time of 1:36.276 seconds over 28 laps

By James Jose

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Published: Fri 11 Dec 2020, 10:35 PM

After enduring a rare blip last time out, normalcy was restored at Mercedes. The German marquee were back in familiar environs — the Yas Marina Circuit, a track where they have enjoyed tremendous success, and with freshly-minted seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton back in the cockpit of the W11, it was the familiar story.

But it wasn’t the Briton though, who set the pace as action got going for the first time this weekend on Friday, for the season-ending Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

That honour went to his Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas. Bottas was to be the quickest man on the 5.554km Circuit as the field got a better reflection of the timings, with the second free practice playing out in the twilight, the same as qualifying and the race.

The 31-year-old topped the timesheets with a best time of 1:36.276 seconds over 28 laps. And as has been the theme for over a while now, it was a Mercedes one-two with Hamilton close with a time of 1:36.479 seconds, +0.203 seconds adrift of Bottas.

Following their bungling in the second of the double-header in Bahrain, Mercedes were back to being bullet-proof. It may just be free practice and not too much should be read into it but going by the way things have panned out, a front row lockout in qualifying looks imminent on Saturday evening.

The threat will again be posed by the young gun Max Verstappen with the Red Bull Racing driver third in free practice with a timing of 1:37.046 seconds over a 30-lap stint. Verstappen had earlier topped the times in the first free practice session, with a time of 1:37.378 seconds, with Bottas in second and Renault’s Esteban Ocon in third. Hamilton, who had missed the Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for Covid-19 and faced a race against time to take part in the final race of the season, was fifth.

“Today (Friday) was ok and there is still a bit of work to do to close the gap to Mercedes who seem strong again,” Verstappen said in a team statement.

“But I didn’t get a lap time on the soft compound as I came up behind Perez on a long run so it’s hard to tell exactly what the gap is. We will see what the other drivers say about track limits in the briefing tonight but it’s Friday Practice which is always about exploring the limits and getting a better understanding of how wide you can go with the car. In qualifying we know we can’t go so wide and will pay more attention, but I don’t think it’s a big issue,” the Dutchman added.

Alexander Albon, who faces an anxious wait to know if he will remain Verstappen’s teammate next season, was fourth with the Thai-British driver coming up with a time of 1:37.263 seconds.

The McLaren-Renault of Lando Norris was fifth with a timing of 1:37.438 seconds, while Ocon finished sixth on the timesheet.

Racing Point BWT Mercedes’ Sergio Perez, who claimed his first win at Sakhir but faces an uncertain future, was seventh as the Mexican timed 1:37.506 seconds.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was eighth, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo, taking part in his final race with Renault before his departure to British marquee McLaren, was ninth.

Racing Point’s Lance Stroll rounded out the top 10.

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who will be joining Ferrari next season, came in 12th, while Sebastian Vettel, in his final race with Ferrari before he joins the rebranded Aston Martin, was 15th.

There was a scary moment towards the end of the session as the tail end of 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo C39 car caught fire.

It brought back the frightening memory of Haas driver Frenchman Romain Grosjean horrific crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix. But the Finn, popularly known as the ‘Iceman,’ was unhurt and cooly got out of the car before assisting the marshals to extinguish the fire.

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