Valtteri Bottas ended both Friday free practice sessions at the Yas Marina Circuit with the fastest time, but the Finn ended the day with a reprimand from the stewards after a collision with Romain Grosjean.
Bottas, who comes into the weekend knowing he will take a grid penalty following an engine change, topped the morning session with a best time of 1:36.957, more than half a second ahead of his nearest challenge Max Verstappen, and despite improving to a 1:36.256 in the evening session, the Mercedes AMG Motorsport driver still feels there are improvements to come for the rest of the weekend.
“It’s been a good day out on track; the car was well-balanced from the get-go,” said Bottas. “I had to take a fresh engine for the weekend which also seems be to working well.
“My pace looked competitive in both sessions, so from that perspective we’ve definitely started the last race weekend of the season off on the right foot, although I’m sure there’s still room for improvement for tomorrow. The track was a bit dusty on the first few runs in FP1, but it evolved quickly and then felt pretty good all through the session.”
The collision with Grosjean caused a brief red flag to clear up debris, with Bottas attempting an overtake that ultimately proved unsuccessful, with the Finn taking responsibility in the steward’s room after the session concluded.
“The end of my FP2 session was compromised by a minor incident with Grosjean; I thought he had seen me going for the overtake on the inside, but by the time I realised that he hadn’t seen me, there was no way for me to escape anymore,” said Bottas.
Team-mate Lewis Hamilton ended third fastest in the morning before improving to end the day second fastest behind Bottas, albeit more than three-tenths of a second down. The World Champion admitted to struggles with getting into a rhythm at the Yas Marina Circuit, but he feels more is to come from the W10 across the remainder of the weekend.
“It’s been a bit of an usual Friday for me; I was struggling to get into the rhythm today, but you have your good and bad days,” said Hamilton. “Nonetheless, the car still felt good, but there’s definitely areas that we can work on as a team and areas for me to work on personally.
“I’ll just sit down tonight and make sure to get that straight for tomorrow. I’ve been trying to explore some new avenues with the car. We already know where it works well, so I’m pushing the car into different places, just trying to see if there’s anywhere else I can exploit the car and the tyres for the future.”
James Allison, the Technical Director at Mercedes, felt it was a good day overall in Abu Dhabi, with Bottas on the pace immediately and Hamilton getting there eventually. He felt the W10 was showing good pace on both the short runs, which bodes well for Qualifying, and the longer runs, which will be good for race day.
“It’s been a pretty good day, Valtteri was strong from the outset in FP1 and kept that good pace going in FP2 on the low fuel and also in the race simulation runs,” said Allison. “Lewis took a little bit longer to find his rhythm with the car but seems to have got that now and was certainly fast and very effective in the long runs.
“The car is behaving itself and we’re hopefully of a good day tomorrow. Although we’ve had a strong day today, it’s pretty clear from looking at the Ferrari and the Red Bull that they’ve got pace in their car as well, so it’ll be an exciting day tomorrow in Qualifying where there’ll be no room for error.“