Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen led Daniel Ricciardo in opening practice for this weekend’s race in Abu Dhabi.
Verstappen has been on a strong run of late, having claimed victory two rounds ago in Mexico before leading comfortably in Brazil until a clash with the lapped Force India of Esteban Ocon. Coming to Yas Marina, Red Bull don’t expect to be as competitive due to the long straights during the Yas Marina Circuit’s middle sector, but that didn’t stop Max Verstappen from putting in a 1:38.491 on the HyperSoft compound to go fastest. This left him just under half a second clear of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who is taking part in his last event with the team this weekend before heading off to Renault.
Mercedes were the next closest team, with Valtteri Bottas slotting into P3; he was over a second off Verstappen’s pace, but never ran the HyperSoft. His best time was on the SuperSoft. Lewis Hamilton in P4 set his best time on the UltraSoft. The new World Champion elected to run the number ‘1’ on his car in FP1 – the first time the number has been used since the 2014 Abu Dhabi race. This is due to the change of rules that occurred which allowed drivers to choose their race numbers or, in the case of the World Champion, to use the number ‘1’. Hamilton has always continued to use his number ’44’ apart from this special occasion marking Merc & him wrapping up both titles in recent rounds.
Esteban Ocon, who is yet to announce what he is doing in 2019, finished P5 for Force India, while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was P6; faster than the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen & Sebastian Vettel respectively.
Carlos Sainz finished P9 for Renault in his last FP1 for the team before his switch to McLaren. The Spaniard had a minor spin during the session, but was able to continue. Romain Grosjean rounded out the top ten in the second Haas.
Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly was P11, although may have mechanical trouble as he came back into the pits smoking badly in the closing stages of the session. Nico Hulkenberg was P12 for Renault, ahead of Sergio Perez’ Force India. Brendon Hartley was P14 for Toro Rosso, and Williams’ Lance Stroll P15.
Sauber don’t appear to have their usual solid pace here, at least so far. Antonio Giovinazzi, driving in FP1 in place of Charles Leclerc, finished P16, while Marcus Ericsson marked his final FP1 before his departure to IndyCar with a spin. Exiting Turn 1, he lost the rear of his car and went into the barrier nose-first, although quite gently. He was able to get back to the pits.
McLaren’s outgoing Stoffel Vandoorne & Fernando Alonso didn’t have any miracle last-minute improvements in form as their dreadful season continues – Vandoorne placed P18, 0.2 clear of Alonso in his final F1 race.
Robert Kubica, who was announced as Williams’ second race driver in 2019, finished P20 in his final FP1 run of the year. He was 4.5 seconds off the front-running pace.