The final race weekend of the year can still throw a spanner in the Drivers World Championship decider, but in the first free practice session it was Lewis Hamilton with his name above the rest. Hamilton’s title rival and team-mate Nico Rosberg ended the session in second place just 0.133 seconds back but 1.7 seconds clear of Alonso in third.
Not only does this weekend mark the final race of the year, Fernando Alonso will be leaving Ferrari after the race and will be replaced by Red Bull’s current driver and four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel.
Furthermore, for the season finale, Caterham were able to make their way back to the paddock following administration and will be racing this weekend. They will be lining up a driving partnership of Kamui Kobayashi and Will Stevens, 23, following the young Briton gaining his super license just in time to be confirmed.
Two other young drivers ventured out onto the Yas Marina Circuit in FP1 with the 2014 Formula Three champion Esteban Ocon, 18, replacing Romain Grosjean and China’s Adderly Fong, 24, replacing Adrian Sutil in the Sauber.
And come 1PM in Abu Dhabi, the opening session of the weekend began with Sergio Perez leading the field away from the pits. Most drivers only completed a single installation lap, however Jenson Button stayed out a little longer after reporting very low levels of grip in the pit lane.
Once the teams had attended to their machines, they sent their drivers back out onto the track and times soon began to hit the board. First up on the time sheet came the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado who, despite a lock up at turn 11, posted a 1:48:739.
Soon after Pastor’s time hit the board, the time sheet was awash with flying laps from up and down the grid. Adderly Fong’s first timed lap of the session was a 1:53:867 and lingered the Chinaman down in last place whilst the Toro Rosso’s and Williams moved ahead.
Hamilton had a poor initial timed lap, resulting in the title-contender finding himself near the bottom. But once the Brit carried another flyer, he moved on top by over seven tenths of a second to Bottas. Yet when Rosberg stormed round the final corner, P1 was the German’s by a further two tenths of a second.
After 25 minutes, just two drivers were yet to post a time with Kevin Magnussen and Will Stevens sitting in 19th and 20th. Magnussen had been running a Red Bull inspired front wing in the opening stages whilst a technical issue onboard the Caterham left the young Brit in the garage.
But whilst the Caterham team investigated his issue, bodywork problems struck both Williams as the sidepod become loose on Felipe Massa’s car. Whilst the entire right-hand sidepod flew off Valtteri Bottas’ FW36 under breaking for turn 11. After the race, Rob Smedley confirmed to SkySportsF1 that a different cooling spec and consequent air pressure issues led to the bodywork problems onboard both cars.
Following the bodywork problems the duo swiftly returned to the pits, as did everyone else as the opening half hour came to an end and the teams handed back their first set of Pirelli tyres. At the time, Rosberg led with a 1:44:860 from Hamilton, Bottas, Alonso and Vettel.
Just over 10 minutes later and drivers were returning to the track. This time Kevin Magnussen was out and putting in timed laps to move into the top 10. But back in the McLaren garage, the session was over for Button as an issue had crept up and the floor was taken off the car.
As for the Mercedes drivers, they were both improving their times on the latest runs but this time it was Lewis Hamilton pushing his team-mate and title rival into second place by exactly four tenths of a second.
Over the next few laps, drivers become settled into their runs and the times began more consistent. Unfortunately for Williams, their running was all over following their earlier sidepod failures.
But out on track the lead was once again switching hands between the Silver Arrows after Rosberg moved ahead of Hamilton by one tenth of a second, just to have the lead taken away by Lewis by once tenth of a second. Meanwhile, Alonso moved into P3 ahead of Vettel but the Spaniard remained 1.7 seconds back from Lewis.
Following his early technical issue leaving him in the garage, with just 15 minutes left of FP1, Will Stevens eventually took to the track in the Caterham. His first timed lap however was a slow 2:01:423, but the Brit was able to improve over his next few timed laps to find just over six seconds, followed by a further couple of seconds.
Come the chequered flag, Lewis Hamilton finished as the lead driver of another Mercedes one-two. Alonso bettered the man replacing him [Vettel] at Ferrari by one and a half tenths.
Despite their session finishing early, Bottas ended the session in eight and Massa in 13th, but Button ended down in 17th. Whilst the free practice runners of Ocon and Fong ended the session in 16th and 19th respectively. For Ocon, his best time of the session was just three tenths slower than his team-mate, Pastor Maldonado’s.
|4||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:45.334||1.858||30|
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:45.361||1.885||23|
|9||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:45.983||2.507||23|
|10||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:46.030||2.554||24|