For the fourth time in 2018 Aston Martin Red Bull Racing finished a Free Practice 1 session in first and second, with Max Verstappen heading the timesheets ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo on Friday afternoon in Abu Dhabi.
Verstappen’s time of a 1 minute 38.491 seconds – six-tenths faster than Sebastian Vettel‘s leading FP1 time 12 months ago – proved to be four-tenths quicker than Ricciardo. Last year’s winner Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton – sporting the number one for this session – trailed in third and fourth for Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport.
Early running at the Yas Marina Circuit proved to be sparse. Vettel broke the silence nearly half-an-hour into the session, with Hamilton and Verstappen swiftly improving on the German’s time. The Dutchman was not to relinquish his spot at the top for the rest of the afternoon.
He was, however, to improve. Complaining of rear locking, the Red Bull driver had a messy last sector on his next attempt on the pink-walled hyper-soft tyres. His next attempt, on fresh tyres, saw him set the track alight and move to over a second faster than Hamilton.
With around half-an-hour of the session remaining, Bottas was also looking to improve. A fastest first sector of all was only good enough to take him above Hamilton and into second, still nearly a second behind Verstappen. The 21-year-old, still fired up from his clash with Esteban Ocon in Brazil, continued to push but was forced to abort a fast lap due to a huge snap of oversteer at the chicane of Turns 5 and 6.
Hamilton was also having struggles of his own, suggesting that his car was “quite unhappy” on the track. With Mercedes’ attentions turning to longer runs towards the end, there may be some more work to do as Red Bull sit comfortably at the top.
Esteban Ocon settled into a very commendable fifth place for the Racing Point Force India F1 Team, just over 1.5 seconds behind his former FIA European Formula 3 Championship rival Verstappen. Kevin Magnussen also impressed in sixth for the Haas F1 Team, finishing ahead of both Scuderia Ferraris of Kimi Räikkönen and Vettel.
Ferrari struggled for place in the introductory session, ending up the thick end of two seconds shy of the Red Bulls. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top ten.
There were two Friday drivers on show, both with race seats for 2019. Antonio Giovinazzi was faster than Marcus Ericsson – who had a clash with the wall on the exit of Turn 1 – in the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team battle; while the returning Robert Kubica had an outing for Williams Martini Racing. His pace was compromised by a testing programme.
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