Vettel nips Hamilton in opening Abu Dhabi practice

Vettel just ahead of Hamilton
Vettel just ahead of Hamilton

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel turned a lap of 1m39.006s to lead opening practice for the Abu Dhabi GP – the final F1 race of 2017. Arch-rival Lewis Hamilton was 2nd quick in his Mercedes just 0.120s behind.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen jumped up to 3rd 0.148s behind Vettel.

There was a slightly larger gap back to Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, the Finn edging the Mercedes of compatriot Valtteri Bottas for fourth, while sixth place went to Force India’s Sergio Perez, followed by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. Williams’ Felipe Massa and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo completed the top ten.

Two test drivers were in action. GP3 champion George Russell got another outing at Force India and took Esteban Ocon’s car to a respectable 11th place, while Antonio Giovinazzi finished 18th in Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.

Meanwhile, the weekend has not started well for Brendon Hartley. A ninth new MGU-H of the season on his Toro Rosso’s Renault power unit means the New Zealander, who finished the session last, will drop 10 places on the grid for Sunday’s race.

As is typical, Frenchman Romain Grosjean, driving for the so-called American Haas team with its non-American drivers, did a 180-degree spin in turn 19 and clipped the barriers.

His title hopes may be long gone, but after victory for Ferrari last time out in Brazil, Sebastian Vettel is keen to end the season on a high in Abu Dhabi this weekend, and give his team a heart-warming early Christmas present…

Q: Sebastian, what feelings do you have at this very last race of the season?

Sebastian Vettel: A good feeling! Why? Because I have good memories of this race. On top of that, we do have a good car and the chance to fight at the very front – and all that should make for a good feeling. And up to this very moment it does.

Q: If you look back, what was the most emotional moment of the season?

SV: I would still go for Monaco. This is a race where emotions always run high – and if you win there, that is one of those magic moments.

Q: And how do you see the season as a whole? More good moments or more not-so-good moments?

SV: I would say more good moments. Yes, Mexico was bitter, having to realize that it’s game over and on a very personal level I would say that Baku was for sure not one of my highlights, as it was completely unnecessary to let all these points slip away, but the majority were strong races, many times crowned with a win or a least with a podium finish.

Vettel stands with team
Vettel stands with team

Q: Winning is what makes your day, but what was the most thrilling fight you had in a race this year? There were quite a few…

SV: Yes, there were quite number of great wheel-to-wheel battles. I fondly remember my overtaking Valtteri (Bottas) in Spain, even if I had wished that he simply would have let me pass – but the action was good. I remember a good fight with Daniel (Ricciardo) in China, and we had some occasions where I was coming from the very back so had to fight a legion of drivers to make it to the front. So sure, I was overtaking a lot of cars – some in spectacular manner, others just by pulling the throttle a bit more. I just hope that in 2018 I don’t have to overtake so many cars again! (Laughs)

Q: How much of a motivation was that win in Brazil two weeks ago? Enough to make peace with 2017?

SV: It was a good weekend, as it showed that if we get our game together we can win a race. We had some glitches after the summer break – sometimes even standing in our own way – but there have never been doubts about our pace. Knowing that, it still feels good to win! Seeing the checkered flag first!

Q: Vice champion is probably not the most prestigious title, but at least you look more or less assured of it…

SV: Is that so? (Laughs) Let me get one thing straight: the first and foremost goal on Sunday is to win the race. If that translates into P2 in the standings, fine!

Q: So how good a feeling would it be to head into the winter break with a win?

SV: That would be a very cozy feeling. (Laughs) It helps – not only oneself, but also the whole team. It’s not that on Monday after the last race you start to think about what to do next season – of course that starts much earlier – but to win the last two races would show that we are heading in the right direction, and that would be very welcome. In the long winter days it warms the heart to look back at a victory!

Q: You said before that you have good memories of the Abu Dhabi weekend. What do you like about this track?

SV: Well, it is probably not the most sophisticated track – it is pretty wide – but that also means that there is more than one racing line. And to find the best solutions for you and your car probably separates the wheat from the chaff. It is a power track with the many straights, but you also have to have good brakes to get a good lap. Even if the track at some parts is wide, it is not so easy to overtake and that means that you’d better qualify at the very front. And that is the plan. And then let’s see what it will be on Sunday. Maybe it will be a cozy winter feeling!

Results

POS NO DRIVER CAR TIME BEHIND LAPS
1 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:39.006 +0.000s 22
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:39.126 +0.120s 24
3 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:39.154 +0.148s 15
4 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:39.518 +0.512s 21
5 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:39.741 +0.735s 29
6 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1:40.293 +1.287s 23
7 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1:40.522 +1.516s 19
8 2 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda 1:40.569 +1.563s 14
9 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 1:40.723 +1.717s 26
10 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:40.773 +1.767s 28
11 35 George Russell Force India Mercedes 1:41.131 +2.125s 26
12 8 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:41.306 +2.300s 23
13 18 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 1:41.581 +2.575s 26
14 10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:41.646 +2.640s 28
15 55 Carlos Sainz Renault 1:41.748 +2.742s 23
16 94 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber Ferrari 1:41.752 +2.746s 25
17 27 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:41.864 +2.858s 25
18 50 Antonio Giovinazzi Haas Ferrari 1:42.065 +3.059s 20
19 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1:42.344 +3.338s 27
20 28 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1:42.585 +3.579s 34

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