Jenson Button was quickest in the first practice session at Abu Dhabi

Jenson Button has emerged quickest at the end of the first practice session for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a session that McLaren largely dominated as the Formula 1 circus travelled to the Middle East for the first time this year.

Button and team-mate Lewis Hamilton spent much of the session at the top of the timesheets, but the pair was robbed of a 1-2 in the session by Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber, who snuck in between to claim second-fastest in the dying moments of the 90-minute session.

While the session started with a very dusty track surface on offer, it also welcomed two drivers into the action for the first time all season: F1 returnee Romain Grosjean was back behind the wheel of a Renault, while Formula Renault 3.5 champion Robert Wickens had his first Grand Prix weekend outing for Virgin Racing. The pair was joined by Toro Rosso reserve driver Jean-Éric Vergne, who was making his second appearance of the year in the STR6.

Pirelli had sent over an experimental version of its ‘super soft’ tyre compound for teams to try out in today’s session, with it ostensibly being a marginally more durable compound than its occasionally-raced predecessor. For this weekend, the 24 drivers will actually be racing on the ‘soft’ and ‘medium’ tyre compounds.

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The session didn’t start out well for Rubens Barrichello, who – like Williams team-mate Pastor Maldonado in the first practice session at the previous Grand Prix in India – blew a Cosworth engine early on. The Brazilian failed to post a timed lap and was mired at the bottom of the timesheets, although he won’t take a grid penalty for changing his engine, as he has not yet used up his allotment of eight engines for the season.

Aside from Barrichello’s engine dramas, several other drivers endured major moments as they tried to get to grips with the slippery track. The Ferraris, in particular, looked to be handling rather poorly, and both Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso suffered spins.

Massa spins off the circuit Alonso spins his Ferrari Petrov's Renault started to smoke

Kamui Kobayashi suffered an apparent gearbox problem in his Sauber, while Vitaly Petrov peeled off into the pits late in the session when his Renault started to smoke heavily, ending in a bath of fire extinguisher foam. Pastor Maldonado suffered a damaged front wing when he clobbered a kerb marker.

But at the top of the order behind the top-three, newly-crowned World Champion Sebastian Vettel finished the session fourth-fastest, ahead of the two tail-happy Ferraris, with Alonso going marginally quicker than Massa.

Adrian Sutil claimed a surprising seventh-fastest in the session, earning the place with a speedy lap on his final run. Nico Rosberg finished eighth-quickest in the factory Mercedes, while rookie drivers Paul di Resta and Jaime Alguersuari rounded out the top-ten.

The second practice session kicks off at 5:00pm local time.



2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:

Driver Team Time Laps
1. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 1:40.263 21
2. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Renault RB7 + 0.126 26
3. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 0.140 27
4. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Renault RB7 + 0.492 27
5. Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari F150° Italia + 0.538 25
6. Felipe Massa BRZ Ferrari F150° Italia + 0.997 17
7. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 1.077 23
8. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 1.867 26
9. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 1.888 28
10. Jaime Alguersuari ESP Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 2.114 26
11. Jean–Éric Vergne FRA Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 2.370 26
12. Romain Grosjean FRA Renault R31 + 2.422 29
13. Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault R31 + 2.855 13
14. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.992 29
15. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 3.126 24
16. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C30 + 4.149 28
17. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C30 + 4.221 18
18. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus Renault T128 + 4.302 27
19. Jarno Trulli ITA Lotus Renault T128 + 4.635 25
20. Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 6.122 28
21. Daniel Ricciardo AUS HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 6.269 27
22. Timo Glock DEU Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 7.761 20
23. Robert Wickens CDN Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 8.288 23
24. Rubens Barrichello BRZ Williams Cosworth FW33 no time 3

[Image via FOM and Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.