Sebastian Vettel has lapped quickest in a closely-fought opening practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing each having a driver represented in the top three positions on the timesheets.

The German posted a fastest overall time of 1:39.006 on the Ultra Soft Pirelli tyre compound, finishing just 0.120 seconds quicker than newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was just 0.028 seconds further behind.

With the session taking place in the late afternoon where track temperatures peaking at over 40°C, lap times were considerably slower than the times expected in Friday evening’s second practice session which will take place in twilight conditions.

Behind the leading trio of Vettel, Hamilton and Verstappen, who each held top spot on the timesheets over a succession of Ultra Soft runs, there was a significant gap back to the rest of the pack.

Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen wound up fourth-fastest, over half a second off the pace, chased by his Finnish compatriot Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes. Bottas was among a number of drivers to run with the 2018-spec Halo cockpit protection system, gathering useful data ahead of the concept’s introduction next year.

Force India’s Sergio Pérez assumed his customary mantle leading the ‘best of the rest’ charge, lapping quicker than McLaren-Honda duo Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. The second Force India Mercedes was once again occupied by Mercedes protégé George Russell, who finished a solid eleventh-fastest while running in place of Esteban Ocon.

In his final Grand Prix outing, Felipe Massa put his Williams ninth-fastest, while Daniel Ricciardo was a rather lowly tenth-quickest in the second Red Bull Racing entry.

Romain Grosjean had an incident-filled session en route to finishing twelfth-fastest. The Haas F1 driver had a spin and whacked the barriers at Turn 19. He finished ahead of Williams rookie Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who reportedly is suffering the after-effects of a head cold.

Ferrari academy driver Antonio Giovinazzi had the controls of the second Haas Ferrari, and also had a spin during the session at Turn 17. The Italian finished 18th-fastest ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, the latter of whom is once again expected to cop a grid penalty for further power unit changes.

The Renaults were well down the order, with Carlos Sainz Jr. (15th) and Nico Hülkenberg (17th) split by the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein. Hülkenberg had a spin at Turn 14.

Image via Scuderia Ferrari

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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.