Sebastian Vettel fastest in Abu Dhabi test as Kimi Raikkonen returns to Sauber

ABU DHABI — Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time on the first day of Abu Dhabi’s post-season test, as his former Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen completed his first day back at Sauber.

Although the test got underway less than 48 hours after the final race of the 2018 season, in many ways it represents the first day of the 2019 season. Raikkonen was among a number of drivers representing their new teams for 2019, as Lando Norris took to the wheel of the McLaren, George Russell and Robert Kubica shared the Williams and Lance Stroll made his first appearance for Force India. The test also saw 2019 tyre compounds used, with five on offer for the teams to compare with the 2018 tyres used this season.

Raikkonen, who last drove for Sauber 17 years ago in his debut F1 season, was wearing an unbranded helmet and overalls so as not to be in conflict with existing Ferrari commercial deals. He spent a full day at the wheel of the car, completing 102 laps before the Sauber stopped on track at turn 7 in the final hour. His Ferrari contract, which expires at the end of the year, also restricted him from media commitments.

Vettel’s fastest time, a 1:36.812, was over two seconds slower than the pole position time for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but still gave him a healthy margin of 0.419s over Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in second place. In the morning, Vettel lost the rear of his Ferrari at Turn 1 and hit the barriers, causing a brief red flag stoppage, but he was able to return to the pits for repairs and soon emerged back on track. It was the second of three red flags during the day, coming after the Haas of test driver Pietro Fittipaldi stopped on track and before Raikkonen stopped in the final hour.

“this test is important mostly for the tyres, just to get an initial feel obviously,” Vettel said. “The pressure from the race weekend is still very fresh so we have something to prepare. Unfortunately we had some small issues today and took a bit more caution and time to change the broken parts. But yeah, nothing big, but we lost a bit of time, no huge surprises, tyres seem to work, seem to be fairly similar, we got a lot of data, now we need to have a look.”

Stroll set the third fastest time after climbing in the Force India for the afternoon. Regular race driver Sergio Perez had set a benchmark time of 1:37.976 in the morning and Stroll went on to beat it by 0.561s with a 1:37.415. The time elevated Force India ahead of Red Bull in the final standings, with Max Verstappen splitting Stroll and Perez with a best time of 1:37.947.

Norris was sixth fastest for McLaren before he hands the car over to new teammate Carlos Sainz on Wednesday, who is joining the team from Renault. Norris’ quickest lap was 0.6s clear of Sainz’s former team Renault, which had Nico Hulkenberg at the wheel before test driver Artem Markelov takes over on Wednesday. Sainz’s replacement, Daniel Ricciardo, will not be allowed to test this week due to his Red Bull contract running to the end of the year.

Williams drivers Kubica and Russell were split by 0.366s in Kubica’s favour, although both were slower than the Haas of Fittipladi in eighth. Toro Rosso driver Sean Gelael was slowest of all but completed the most laps with 150 in total.

It should be noted, however, that Pirelli has both 2018 and 2019 tyres available to the teams this week, making comparisons between lap times, which are never particularly enlightening during testing, even more difficult. The 2019 tyres are no longer named, but instead numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 with 1 being the hardest and 5 the softest. For the purposes of the times below, 2018 tyres are named and 2019 compunds numbered.

1. Vettel, Ferrari, 1:36.812, 69 laps (Hyper-soft)
2. Bottas, Mercedes, 1:37.231, 120 laps (Compound 5)
3. Stroll, Force India, 1:37.415, 56 laps (Hyper-soft)
4. Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:37.947, 133 laps (Ultra-soft)
5. Perez, Force India, 1:37.976, 67 laps (Compound 5)
6. Norris, McLaren, 1:38.187, 136 laps (Compound 5)
7. Hulkenberg, Renault, 1:38.789, 128 laps (Hyper-soft)
8. Fittipaldi, Haas, 1:39.201, 55 laps (Hyper-soft)
9. Kubica, Williams, 1:39.269, 32 laps (Compound 5)
10. Russell, Williams, 1:39.512, 42 laps (Compound 5)
11. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:39.878, 102 laps (Compound 5)
12. Gelael, Toro Rosso, 1:40.435, 150 laps (Hyper-soft)