Despite facing the certain prospect of a back of the grid start for Sunday evening’s Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas showed that there’s plenty of pace in his Mercedes-AMG as he finished half a second clear of his nearest rivals in the opening practice session at the Yas Marina Circuit.
The Finn has had a troubled fortnight and in the lead-up to the weekend took to social media to announce he and his wife of three years, the Finnish Olympic swimmer Emilia Pikkarainen, have separated.
After retiring from the previous race at Interlagos with a power unit failure, the team made the decision to give him a new combustion engine, MGU-H and turbo charger, which will entail a demotion to the back of the grid. Free to focus on fine-tuning his car for race conditions, the championship runner-up comfortably headed Brazilian Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing Honda by 0.535 seconds.
Despite the daytime conditions being unrepresentative of the temperature and grip that will feature in qualifying and the race, several drivers didn’t take it easy as they explored the limits of adhesion in the series’ final hit-out of the season.
The most dramatic moment befell to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Fresh from a chastening visit to the team’s headquarters for a ‘please explain’ following his Brazilian Grand Prix collision with teammate Charles Leclerc and a delayed arrival to the circuit due to the birth of his third child, the German spun and planted his car in the wall at Turn 19.
The four-time World Champion appeared to take too much kerb at the left-hander and his car suddenly swapped ends.
Fifth-fastest at the time, the strike against the barriers damaged the left-rear corner of his car, bringing out the red flags with two minutes of the session to run and denying other drivers the chance to post a last-gasp lap.
Bottas’ teammate Lewis Hamilton finished third-quickest despite a sensor issue on his Mercedes W10 that momentarily caused it to switch to ‘limp home’ mode. He finished ahead of Verstappen’s teammate Alexander Albon.
A surprise sixth-fastest was Haas’ Romain Grosjean, trialling a new set-up configuration developed in the American team’s simulator. Proving the initial promise of the VF-19’s pace, teammate Kevin Magnussen was eighth-fastest, with the pair split by the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi was ninth-quickest while Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg, in his last outing for the Enstone team and possible in Formula 1 altogether, completed the top ten.
The German’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo managed just twelve laps in the session before his engine detonated on the approach to the final corner and coated the turn with oil.
Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, following in the Australian’s wheeltracks, was lucky to avoid an accident after being sprayed by the Renault engine’s oil while Bottas also slid off into the run-off and managed to avoid hitting the wall.
|FORMULA 1 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX 2019 – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:36.957||23|
|2.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:37.492||+ 0.535||22|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:37.591||+ 0.634||20|
|4.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:38.084||+ 1.127||23|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:38.906||+ 1.949||19|
|6.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:39.146||+ 2.189||18|
|7.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:39.249||+ 2.292||18|
|8.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:39.350||+ 2.393||19|
|9.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:39.423||+ 2.466||20|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:39.505||+ 2.548||22|
|11.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:39.628||+ 2.671||18|
|12.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:39.864||+ 2.907||23|
|13.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:39.888||+ 2.931||17|
|14.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:39.901||+ 2.944||17|
|15.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:39.969||+ 3.012||20|
|16.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:40.401||+ 3.444||17|
|17.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:40.687||+ 3.730||23|
|18.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:40.792||+ 3.835||21|
|19.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:40.850||+ 3.893||12|
|20.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:41.362||+ 4.405||24|
Image via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport