Valtteri Bottas will be desperate to repeat his 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix win this weekend to ensure that he doesn’t end 2018 victory-less. And he appears well-placed to do it, looking in great nick around the Yas Marina Circuit in Free Practice 2 to go fastest for Mercedes, shading the Red Bull of FP1 leader Max Verstappen by 0.044s.
As the sun set, the temperatures cooled and the floodlights sparkled down on the circuit, the drivers headed out to try and gather as much data as they could, knowing that these were the conditions that will most closely replicate those that they’ll face during Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s race.
Good news for Mercedes and Red Bull then, with Bottas heading the way for the Silver Arrows having endured a scrappy FP1, while Red Bull will have been well pleased with their performance so far this weekend at a track that traditionally hasn’t played to their car design’s strengths. Since 2014, the team have never managed to finish on the podium in Abu Dhabi. But with Verstappen finishing the session second, and Daniel Ricciardo just 0.192s off Bottas’ leading pace in third, things are looking promising for the Milton Keynes team at this stage.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Racing
The news was less good over at Ferrari, with Kimi Raikkonen their leading driver in fifth, two-hundreths of a second behind fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton – who reverted back to his traditional #44 in this session, having worn #1 on his W09 earlier in the day – while Sebastian Vettel was sixth, meanwhile, 0.333s back from Bottas. After failing to match his team mate in this session, there may be worse to come for Hamilton, after he was summoned to appear in front of the stewards later tonight for crossing the white line separating the pit entry and the circuit at the end of FP1.
One of the main talking points of the session was the large sausage kerb on the outside of Turn 20, which was causing issues for the drivers as they tried to push the limits into the final set of Yas Marina’s right-hand bends.
Verstappen ended up awkwardly straddling the kerb with his RB14, radioing to his team afterwards that he was worried about floor damage, while a similar message was relayed back to Sauber after Charles Leclerc ran over the kerb and then launched his car back over it and onto the track. The FIA's F1 race director Charlie Whiting might well be expecting to field a few complaints this evening…
HIGHLIGHTS: FP2 from Abu Dhabi
Haas looked strong in FP1, and were on form again in Free Practice 2, Romain Grosjean going P7, a tenth and a half quicker than Renault rival Nico Hulkenberg in eighth.
Kevin Magnussen in the sister Haas was ninth, while Esteban Ocon in the Force India rounded out the top 10, as the engineers prepared to head into one of the trickiest Friday evenings of the season, set-up in Abu Dhabi being hard to judge given the large variance in track conditions.
So, a fine session for Valtteri Bottas just when he needed it the most. Should the Finn not win this weekend, he’ll go down as the first Mercedes driver to fail to take victory in a season since Michael Schumacher in 2012 – illustrious company, for sure, but a fate he’ll doubtless be keen to avoid. That being the case, he’ll have been chuffed with his efforts beneath the Friday night lights in Abu Dhabi…