The first day of practice at Yas Marina Circuit brought some surprises as both Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso went off track, although both cars were only lightly damaged.
It is the fourth time this season that Vettel has crashed in practice, of the three previous occasions in Turkey, Canada and Japan he went on to win only one of them. Alonso meanwhile hit the kerb under braking in the same Turn 1 and went off into the barriers.
The McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button set the pace, as Pirelli tried out an experimental soft tyre, with a view to harvesting data for next year’s tyres. In the final hour of the second session the teams reverted to the soft and medium tyres they will use for the rest of the weekend and the indications are that the difference in pace between them is around 1.2 seconds. This is pretty much as expected, but we’ve seen a few times lately that the tyres have not performed on race day quite as teams think they will. The track ramps up a lot in speed as the weekend goes on and more rubber goes down from F1 cars and GP2 cars.
It appears that the soft tyre should last up to 20 laps, with some teams like Sauber and Toro Rosso perhaps getting a few more laps than that. This means the race is likely to be a two-stopper for most teams.
Lewis Hamilton looks a lot fresher than in India and there is a lot of confidence in the team that this weekend they can challenge for the race win. Hamilton has always been strong here, taking pole and dominating the 2009 edition of the race until a car failure caused him to retire and he looks likely to be a contender in qualifying and the race,
“It was a really positive day for me,” said Hamilton. “The car feels good – our long-run pace doesn’t feel too bad and we seem to be quite competitive. The car feels a lot better than it did at the last race – so I really hope I’ll be able to keep that going throughout the remainder of the Grand Prix weekend.”
Martin Whitmarsh said that he thought it unlikely that Hamilton would find himself sparring with Felipe Massa again this weekend, as he hoped Hamilton would be some way up the road from the Brazilian!
Jenson Button meanwhile thinks that despite there being plenty of DRS overtaking space, it will still be hard to pass on Sunday, “I was playing around with overtaking on my long run, but I still reckon it’ll be difficult to overtake people in the DRS zones,” he said. “So I think it’s going to be a bit of a struggle to make moves stick in the race – which means it’s going to be important to qualify up at the front.”
Ferrari again had a front wing on Felipe Massa’s car that flexed alarmingly. Team boss Stefano Domenicali confirmed afterwards that this is the same wing as they tried in India and that it is the same specification as the others, but that it had been modified since India. He conceded that the modifications did not appear to have worked.
Massa said he was happy with his practice session. He is wearing a special helmet design this weekend celebrating the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s third world title. It will be auctioned after the weekend to raise money for the Senna Foundation.
The track temperature in the evening session, starting at 5pm was 14 degrees cooler than in the first session. Both qualifying and the race will take place at this time so temperatures of around 28 degrees are likely. The temperature was stable across the 90 minute session.
Tomorrow’s Free Practice 3 session will therefore be of limited use as the conditions will be completely different from qualifying.
It was a day of lost engines too, with Rubens Barrichello reaching the end of the life of his engine. It’s late in the season and the engines used on Friday have already done at least two races and some practice sessions so it is only to be expected.
Romain Grosjean did a good job in his Friday morning test drive role, impressing the team and reminding the F1 world of his capabilities. But it looks like it could be another difficult weekend for the Renault team pace wise.
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, Yas Marina Circuit, Free Practice 2
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m39.586s 31
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1m39.785s + 0.199 30
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m39.971s + 0.385 20
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m39.980s + 0.394 34
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m40.104s + 0.518 35
6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m40.132s + 0.546 26
7. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m40.553s + 0.967 34
8. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m40.951s + 1.365 34
9. Paul di Resta Force India 1m41.021s + 1.435 37
10. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m41.490s + 1.904 34
11. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m41.565s + 1.979 34
12. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m41.680s + 2.094 33
13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m41.947s + 2.361 31
14. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m41.983s + 2.397 34
15. Bruno Senna Renault 1m42.369s + 2.783 36
16. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m42.798s + 3.212 35
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m42.910s + 3.324 34
18. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m43.562s + 3.976 36
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m44.050s + 4.464 38
20. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m44.265s + 4.679 41
21. Timo Glock Virgin 1m45.486s + 5.900 34
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m46.142s + 6.556 32
23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 1m46.249s + 6.663 21
24. Daniel Ricciardo HRT 1m46.328s + 6.742 34