Max Verstappen headed a Red Bull 1-2 earlier, however, in many ways the session was unrepresentative as it took place earlier and in different conditions to what we can expect tomorrow for qualifying and on Sunday for the race.
The event here in Abu Dhabi is held at dusk and therefore temperatures will be cooler. Nonetheless, the Red Bull‘s pace was impressive, third-placed Valtteri Bottas almost a full second off Verstappen’s benchmark.
As ever, drivers struggled for grip, and while there were a couple of excursions and spins, Marcus Ericsson was the only driver to incur any damage, the Swede requiring a new nose after a brush with the barriers.
Stroll is first out, the Canadian’s Williams sporting hypersofts. Shortly after he is joined by teammate Sirotkin, both facing their final weekends with the Grove outfit.
Vandoorne heads out on ultras and the Ferrari pair on supers.
No messing about this time, unlike FP1, in moments there is a time on the board, Stroll posting 41.081. Moments later Sirotkin posts 43.271.
On those supers, Raikkonen posts 40.224 and Vettel 40.270, the Ferrari pair having spent most of FP1 carrying out 2019-focussed tests.
On the ultras, Magnussen goes third with a 40.314, only to be demoted when Hulkenberg posts 40.170 to go quickest.
Ten minutes into the session and there are 18 drivers on track, Ricciardo and Alonso the no-shows.
Bottas goes quickest with a 38.600 as teammate Hamilton – now sporting the more familiar ’44’ – goes second with a 39.372.
As the Ferrari pair improve, along with Ocon, in no time at all Hulkenberg has dropped from first to sixth.
“There’s something wrong with the deployment,” advises Bottas.
A 38.842 sees Verstappen split the Mercedes pair, with Sainz and Hulkenberg effectively best of the rest.
Hamilton takes advantage of the run-off at T11, just moments after Hulkenberg and Grosjean experienced lock-ups.
A 39.922 sees Ricciardo go sixth, like Bottas and Verstappen he is on ultras, whereas Hamilton and the Ferraris are on supers.
“Er, I touched that big kerb… and bottomed out,” admits Verstappen. “I think we need to check the floor.” He’s referring to the ‘sausage’ kerb at T20. Replay shows that as he rode the kerb the Red Bull driver was literally a passenger, all four wheels off the ground.
Having improves on his second lap to 39.087, Ricciardo is told he might get a third (fast) lap out of them. At which point the Australian goes quickest with 38.582.
Leclerc is advised that he’s losing time at the exit of T19.
Raikkonen switches to the hypers for a qualifying run. Quickest in the first two sectors, the Finn makes it a clean sweep as he crosses the line at 37.461 to go quickest by 1.121s. That’s 1.9s quicker than he went on the supersofts.
Now Vettel heads out on the pink-banded rubber, as does countryman Hulkenberg.
Vettel can only manage a PB in the opening sector, though he goes quickest in S2. Crossing the line at 37.569, he goes second by 0.108s.
As more drivers switch to the hypers, Grosjean goes third (38.060), ahead of Hulkenberg and Sainz, as the Mercedes pair also change to the pink-banded rubber.
Bottas posts 37.236 and Hamilton 37.443, as Verstappen is told that Raikkonen has managed five laps on the hypers.
“A couple of big mistakes unfortunately,” admits Hartley, “turns eight and eleven, a really poor lap.” Can’t fault the guy for honesty.
Having posted PBs in the first two sectors, Verstappen goes quickest in S3, thereby going second overall with a 37.288, just 0.052s. That lap included some traffic and even a mistake in the final corner,
“The battery is so slow at charging,” reports Verstappen.
Ricciardo consolidates sixth with a 37.790 to establish the top six, which leaves Grosjean as best of the rest, ahead of Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Ocon.
Leclerc enjoys a high-speed but bumpy excursion at T5. “Check if nothing is broken,” he says, “it was quite a big shock when I came back on track.”
What on earth is it with these Toro Rosso boys. In FP1 Hartley needed to take a pee, now Gasly says he needs to go to the bathroom. “Be quick,” he is told.
Meanwhile, the stewards have summoned Hamilton after an incident in FP1 in which he was very, very late in entering the pits. In fact, he missed the entrance and had to reverse in order to get back into it.
Ricciardo is told to avoid the ‘sausage’ at the exit of T20 in order not ot incur front wing damage.
With attention having switched to longer runs on high fuel, most remain on the hypers, though Raikkonen, Sainz and Sirotkin are on supers and Vandoorne on ultras, the Belgian yet to complete a qualifying run..
Ocon is told to protect his front-right, the Frenchman warned that some drivers are complaining of graining to that particular tyre. Indeed, moments later Alonso reports just that issue.
“Tyres are gone,” reports Vettel, while Perez is intriguingly told that “the rear tyres have the capacity to help the fronts”.
“Management looks good, degradation lower than some competitors,” Hamilton is told, “Ferrari were particularly bad.”
As the long runs continue, some have switched to ultras while others have opted for the supers. Mercedes the only one of the leading teams to split its strategy, Bottas on ultras and Hamilton on supers.
A near miss in the pitlane as a Force India is released into the path of Verstappen. No, it is not his old pal, Ocon.
Over 3 laps Hamilton has averaged 1:43.3s, Max 43.9 over 8 laps, Bottas 44.1 (5), Raikkonen 44.1 (3) and Vettel 45.1 over 4 laps.
“The front right is cooked,” reports Gasly. “Almost feels like there is something broken on the car.”
“I’m getting in traffic again, but it doesn’t make sense to keep stopping,” says Verstappen.
The session ends. Bottas is quickest, ahead of Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Ocon.
Gasly is eleventh, ahead of Sainz, Alonso, Perez, Leclerc, Hartley, Ericsson, Vandoorne, Stroll and Sirotkin.
While Red Bull and Mercedes will come away from today’s session feeling confident, Ferrari is clearly very much of the pace and has work to do. Then again, the Italian team often plays things safe on a Friday.
And talking of playing things safe, it will be interesting to see if anything is done about that sausage kerb overnight.