5 things we learned from Friday practice at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
And so for the final time in 2022, teams hit the track for Friday practice at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit to finetune their machines for qualifying and the Grand Prix. So who is shaping up to have a great finale to their campaign?
1. Red Bull appear to be the ones to beat
After the defeat in Brazil, Red Bull were back on form in Abu Dhabi, the RB18 – as expected – nicely suited the twists and turns of Yas Marina, with Max Verstappen needing just one session (the reigning world champion lending his car to Liam Lawson for FP1) to quickly find his groove.
The Dutchman felt comfortable on the soft tyres on low fuel and on the mediums when the car was heavy – his serene form marking him out as the driver to beat this weekend.
In terms of raw data, the Red Bull led the way in terms of qualifying trim, 0.16s clear of Ferrari – and that advantage extended to 0.23s when the race evaluation began.
Their lap times on the medium in particular were favourable to their immediate rivals, and with degradation 66% higher than expected this weekend, that puts them in very good shape for Sunday evening.
2. Mercedes in mix to continue upward trajectory
Talking of degradation, that is Mercedes’ biggest concern after Friday running, according to trackside chief Andrew Shovlin.
The Silver Arrows secured their first one-two in two years last time out in Brazil, but while Lewis Hamilton felt they were closer than they have been to Red Bull in most races this year, they were still a little off the pace in pure performance.
Hamilton made some changes between FP1 and FP2 which didn’t quite work, so he accepts they have work to do overnight.
In qualifying trim, the silver cars appear to be around a quarter of a second off the pace, and that extends by a tenth in race trim. That’s among the most competitive they’ve been all season, and means they could play a big part in the outcome of this weekend.
3. Ferrari in pole contention but lacking race pace
After difficult weekends at altitude in Mexico and Brazil, Ferrari looked in far better shape after Friday’s running in Abu Dhabi.
Their one lap performance puts them in contention for pole position, but as has often been the case this year, their medium-shod efforts on the long runs looked difficult.
With degradation high, it’s likely that the harder compounds will be required for what could well be a two-stop race. That could be a headache for Ferrari, who have struggled with tyre management on race day this year.
That said, overall they are still the second fastest team in both metrics, meaning a podium with at least one car will be the minimum target.
4. Alpine edging out McLaren in fight for P4
Alpine headed to Abu Dhabi with a comfy 19-point cushion over McLaren in their private fight for P4 in the constructors’ championship – and their form on Friday suggested they are in good shape to bring that position home this season.
Esteban Ocon said the team made good improvements from FP1 to FP2 and gained a good understanding of the soft and medium tyres.
On low fuel, they were fifth fastest, 0.03s clear of McLaren, while in race trim, they are lapping around the same as their rivals.
It wasn’t such a smooth day for McLaren, with Daniel Ricciardo losing track time with a small oil leak while Lando Norris had to play catch up after loaning his car to Pato O’Ward in FP1. It’s going to be an uphill battle if they are to overturn such a big deficit, but they are at least showing much better pace than they did in Brazil.
5. Alfa Romeo could be dark horses
Alfa Romeo have shown impressive form as this season comes to a close, the upgrades around the front wing and floor delivering lap time that is putting them in prime position to fend off Aston Martin to take P6 in the constructors’ championship.
They were fourth overall in qualifying pace, 0.06s clear of Alpine and just 0.06s adrift of fourth-placed Alpine in the race simulations, suggesting not only are they in the mix to make Q3 but points with one car at least is a genuine possibility.
Both Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu reported the car balance felt good from the very first laps, which meant they could focus on fine-tuning rather than needing to make wholesale changes.
It was a particularly impressive performance from Zhou, who missed FP1 because Robert Kubica ran the car, and thus had just one hour to get to grips with the track. His pace, particularly in qualifying trim, was very encouraging.