Lewis Hamilton gave McLaren a boost after a difficult month by dominating first practice ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Briton was comfortably fastest, three quarters of a second clear of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull with Jenson Button the only man to get any closer in the sister McLaren.
Many were keeping a close eye on Marussia as Max Chilton took part in his first official practice session, substituting for Charles Pic. The 21 year old began his morning with aero evaluations but Caterham reserve Giedo van der Garde couldn’t even complete a lap at reduced speed after an engine problem.
Another of the third drivers, Valtteri Bottas led the session early on as many of the frontrunners waited in their garages for the track to rubber in. With half of the session completed, Michael Schumacher ended the Finn’s time at the top of the leaderboard with a 1:45.309 but Fernando Alonso would soon outpace the pair of them on his first representative lap in the Ferrari.
Alonso’s lap in the low 1:45s was blown away in no uncertain terms by Lewis Hamilton as the 2011 winner went a full second quicker and the upgraded Ferrari was soon pushed down the order by the Red Bulls as well as the second McLaren.
Hamilton looked to be in sensational form and eventually lowered the benchmark time to a 1:43.285 before pitting while Button sat a distant second after hitting traffic in the final sector. Jenson returned to the track on old tyres late in the session though and closed the gap to a third of a second on his last lap of the morning.
Vettel, mindful that this weekend may be a tougher proposition than those previous, was third while his championship rival Alonso bounced back up to fourth in the dying seconds, splitting Vettel from his teammate Mark Webber. Michael Schumacher improved himself to a 1:44.694 but couldn’t avoid slipping to sixth while Pastor Maldonado, Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen completed the top ten, the Lotus trailing Hamilton by 2.1s.
Felipe Massa was eleventh fastest in the second Ferrari ahead of Nico Hulkenberg who suffered from overheating problems. Kamui Kobayashi, the man many expect to step aside for Hulkenberg at Sauber next year, was thirteenth with Sergio Perez three places further back after an eventful session which almost saw him hit the pitwall when he lost the back end of the car entering the pitlane.
Max Chilton completed 22 laps on his first session as a Marussia driver with a 1:48.887 the quickest of them. The British youngster was a second slower than his teammate Timo Glock, no disgrace given his relative lack of experience.