RACE DEBRIEF

    Max Verstappen finished fastest in first practice in Abu Dhabi, with the Red Bull driver just 0.034s ahead of Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas – while Lewis Hamilton was fifth on his return to the cockpit.

    Verstappen set the benchmark of 1m37.378s to go narrowly ahead of Bottas at the Yas Marina circuit. In third place, 1.137s behind Verstappen, was Renault's Esteban Ocon – who finished a brilliant second in last week's Sakhir Grand Prix, taking his first podium in the sport.

    READ MORE: Paddock prepares for a series of emotional farewells ahead of Abu Dhabi finale

    Fourth-place Red Bull driver Alex Albon was 1.169s behind his team mate Verstappen, having spun at Turn 12 before setting his fastest time. Red Bull used this session to test new parts some new parts, including a floor to prepare them for 2021's downforce cut.

    Hamilton, who has now recovered from Covid-19 to take part in the final race of the season after missing the Sakhir race last week, encountered a brake issue early in the session and had to dive back into the pits, interrupting his soft-tyre running. He emerged on hard tyres and was the only driver in the session to set their fastest laps on the slowest compound. He was fifth in FP1, 1.366s behind Verstappen.

    Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2020

    Abu Dhabi 2020

    Practice 1 results

    POSITION TIME
    1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing 1:37.378
    2 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes +0.034s
    3 Esteban Ocon OCO Renault +1.137s
    4 Alexander Albon ALB Red Bull Racing +1.169s
    5 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes +1.366s

    Sakhir Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez will start at the back of the grid for Racing Point having taken a new engine and parts to complement it, but finished seventh in the session behind his team mate Lance Stroll in P6.

    AlphaTauri's duo lined up eighth and ninth, with Daniil Kvyat just 0.010s faster than team mate Pierre Gasly.

    READ MORE: Ferrari CEO Camilleri retires with immediate effect after fight with Covid-19

    It was Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen that rounded out the top 10 at Yas Marina Circuit, while his team mate for the session was Robert Kubica (P15) who stepped in for Antonio Giovinazzi in FP1.

    McLaren were 11th and 13th quickest thanks to Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris respectively. Splitting them was the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, who has a three-place grid penalty for this race after his Lap 1 crash at Sakhir.

    WATCH: FP1 Highlights

    In his final FP1 for Ferrari, 14th-place Sebastian Vettel finished just ahead of Kubica. Vettel has a shiny new helmet this weekend thanking his team, fans and Italy too as he says goodbye to the team he has raced with for six years.

    With Hamilton returning to Mercedes, George Russell slotted back in at Williams and finished 16th, more than six-tenths ahead of team mate Nicholas Latifi one spot behind.

    Haas's 2021 driver Mick Schumacher stepped in for Kevin Magnussen in FP1 and finished 18th, while Romain Grosjean's replacement Pietro Fittipaldi finished 19th.

    READ MORE: Russell, Grosjean and Vettel reveal one-off helmet designs for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

    That left Daniel Ricciardo in last place, as a fuel pressure issue halted his progress early in the session, bringing out a brief Virtual Safety Car as the marshals wheeled his R.S.20 off the circuit. That also hampered the flying laps of some others, including Bottas, early on in the session.

    So Red Bull have laid down the gauntlet in the United Arab Emirates – can they stop Mercedes winning a seventh-straight Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend? Stay tuned to F1.com for live coverage of the remaining practice sessions, qualifying and the race.

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    Hamilton was fifth fastest in his first session since returning from a Covid-19 lay-off