Max Verstappen 0.034s ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon third for Renault; Lewis Hamilton fifth on F1 return after missing last weekend’s race due to coronavirus; Mick Schumacher makes F1 weekend debut for Haas.
Max Verstappen has started the final weekend of the Formula 1 season on top of the timesheets after edging Valtteri Bottas in Abu Dhabi GP first practice, where Lewis Hamilton made his return for Mercedes.
Hamilton, who missed last weekend’s Sakhir GP due to coronavirus, was back in the Mercedes car on Friday morning after returning negative Covid-19 tests before flying out to Yas Marina and entering the paddock.
It was a rather quiet session for the world champion, who had brake issues at the start of it and finished it in fifth – although only 1.3seconds off the leading pace despite setting his fastest time on the much slower hard tyre.
Verstappen’s session-topping time – 1:37.378 – came on the softs, just three hundredths of a second ahead of Bottas with Red Bull and Mercedes evenly-matched at the start of F1 2020’s concluding round.
George Russell, reverting to his usual Williams seat after replacing Hamilton – and nearly winning – for Mercedes in Bahrain last Sunday, was 16th, two places ahead of Mick Schumacher, who finally made his F1 weekend debut.
Schumacher, the newly-crowned Formula 2 champion and son of F1 legend Michael, missed out on P1 in Germany earlier this season due to wet weather but wasn’t going to be denied in the Abu Dhabi sunshine as he completed 23 laps for Haas, the team he will be joining full-time next season.
He finished ahead of team-mate Pietro Fittipaldi, who is once again standing in for Romain Grosjean this weekend, and Daniel Ricciardo, who failed to set a time in the Renault due to an early fuel pressure problem.
Hamilton’s rather slow start was to be expected considering his absence, and the fact he only returned to training this week, but this year’s title-winner would have been much further towards the front if he had opted for the soft tyre.
Esteban Ocon, who secured his first F1 podium last week, finished third on that compound for Renault, ahead of Alex Albon.
Albon, afforded one last chance to secure his Red Bull seat for next season, spun on his pivotal push lap, his 1:38.5 then coming on older and damaged tyres.
Lance Stroll was sixth for Racing Point, ahead of the Sakhir GP winner Sergio Perez.
Perez’s weekend, however, got that much more difficult on Friday morning as it was confirmed he would be starting at the back of the grid for Sunday’s race – with the Mexican taking a brand new engine.
Kevin Magnussen, also taking engine penalties, will join him.
With first practice taking place in the Abu Dhabi afternoon sunshine – rather than the night-time conditions for the race in qualifying – many teams were treating the often unrepresentative session as a testing ground.
That included Ferrari, who were testing out their new 2021 floor in the session, with Charles Leclerc 12th and Sebastian Vettel 14th.
Second practice starts at 1pm on Sky Sports F1.
News Source: Skysports