Valtteri Bottas got his hopes of finally achieving a Grand Prix victory in 2018 off to the perfect start by topping the final Friday practice of the season.
A candidate for the unluckiest driver of the season, the Mercedes driver will be looking to repeat the ending to his 2017 year by securing the win at the Abu Dhabi finale.
The Finn topped the qualifying simulations with a 1m38.600s, ahead of the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who were closer than anticipated on a circuit where Mercedes have previously dominated.
“We definitely learned a lot from the runs we did today, especially in the evening, and there are plenty of things we can adjust overnight to find a good set-up for qualifying and the race,” said Bottas after practice.
“It’s nice to be on top of the timesheets, but we now need to build on that, we need to try and make the right set-up changes and I also need to find more performance from myself.
“My goal for the weekend is to repeat last year’s result, but there’s still plenty of work to do.”
Both of the Bulls were less than two tenths off the pace of Bottas, and were able to improve their times on their second flying laps.
Their times on the hypersoft tyres look to have increased importance in Abu Dhabi after it was discovered that the performance gap between the these and the ultrasoft tyres was bigger than expected, around 1.3-1.4 seconds per lap.
Lewis Hamilton – who ran with the number 1 sticker instead of his usual number 44 in FP1 – finished in fourth place, two tenths off Bottas’ pace after a mistake in the final sector.
Any early threats of power unit issues on Hamilton’s side of the Mercedes garage appear to have subsided after the Briton ran without issue on Friday.
“We ran through a number of checks on Lewis’s power unit and so far it all looks normal, which is good news, confirmed Mercedes chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin.
“You always struggle a bit more with overheating in FP1 but other than that, the car seemed to be working OK.”
On face value, Ferrari appear to be off the pace, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in fifth and sixth, and they’ll be looking to claw back the time deficit overnight.
Romain Grosjean lead the midfielders in seventh, with Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen in ninth. They were split by Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, whilst Force India’s Esteban Ocon – who was announced today as Mercedes’ test and reserve driver for 2019 – completed the top ten.
Haas lodge protest against Force India
Ahead of this season’s finale in Abu Dhabi, the Haas team has protested Force India over chassis queries related to their mid-season change of ownership.
The American team believe that Racing Point Force India have gone against Formula One regulations by running a chassis which was created by their previous entity Sahara Force India.
According to team principal Guenther Steiner, Haas have been seeking clarification on the issue, but are yet to receive a satisfactory response from the FIA. The stewards say they will give an answer to the complaint on Saturday.
“What we are seeking is equality for all the teams,” said Steiner.
“We came into F1 under certain circumstances, we were aware of what we have to do, we did it all, and we feel that this was not done this time with Force India. So we are just seeking equality or at least an explanation of why it isn’t.
“I think everybody needs to be treated the same. We don’t want more or anything. When we came into the sport we did our apprenticeship, we would just like that everybody is treated equally.
When asked about the timing of the protest he added: “We didn’t only wait up until now, we tried to mediate and get an understanding.
“We got nothing and at some point you need to do something, if you get no answers, that’s not good enough, or at least an explanation how it works. Just no answer at all. I tried to mediate it now for six weeks and never had an answer, so we decided to protest.
“There is no big reason why now. It’s just we got it all together, it’s a lot of work that you get your facts checked, and you decide to do it, and it’s the last opportunity, so we did it.”
Only a few weeks ago, Haas were unsuccessful in their protest against their disqualification for the Italian Grand Prix, which would’ve been worth eight points to the team.
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, Free Practice
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m37.236s 37
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m37.280s 0.044s 32
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m37.428s 0.192s 31
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m37.443s 0.207s 35
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m37.461s 0.225s 40
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m37.569s 0.333s 39
7 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m38.060s 0.824s 30
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m38.230s 0.994s 36
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m38.318s 1.082s 30
10 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m38.402s 1.166s 33
11 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m38.506s 1.270s 32
12 Carlos Sainz Renault No time 1m38.511s 1.275s 37
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m38.725s 1.489s 35
14 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m38.806s 1.570s 31
15 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m38.831s 1.595s 33
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m38.957s 1.35s 35
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m39.502s 2.266s 36
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m39.938s 2.702s 18
19 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m40.046s 2.810s 33
20 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m40.935s 3.699s 39
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
What are your predictions for this weekend’s finale Abu Dhabi? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.