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Friday analysis - Hamilton off to a perfect start

21 Nov 2014

The benign weather conditions enabled everyone to conduct their usual tyre testing and set-up work without interruption in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

The gap between the softs and the supersofts was about 1.2s, though Pirelli expect that to come down to below a second as the track rubbers in. Two pits stops seem likely, though strategies may vary as teams gamble to try and take advantage of the double points here. What is certain is that there will be little to split the Mercedes cars of the two title contenders. We take a team-by-team look at day one at Yas Marina…

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, 1m 43.476s, P1/1m 42.113s, P1

Nico Rosberg, 1m 43.609s, P2/1m 42.196s, P2

Both drivers reported good days, though Rosberg said he hadn’t quite got his set-up nailed yet. They were very evenly matched, but Hamilton retains the psychological advantage of knowing that he can afford to finish second, even if he doesn’t want to. Rosberg is desperately hoping a Williams might separate them if he gets on to the pole. The management, meanwhile, are wisely leaving them to get on with their final head-to-head battle of 2014, while keeping their fingers crossed that both cars remain reliable.

McLaren

Kevin Magnussen, 1m 46.049s, P11/1m 42.895s, P3

Jenson Button, 1m 47.235s, P17/1m 43.503s, P8

Button was plagued by suspension and hydraulic problems and a problem with his brake pedal, but Magnussen’s performance with the new Peter Prodromou aero upgrade was cause for great optimism, as he was only seven-tenths of a second off Rosberg. Button won’t use the new front wing, however, as it’s too complicated to change back from if he finds the lack of track time hampers his set-up work tomorrow. He will thus go into the race with his long-run set-up optimised in comparison with his team mate.

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel, 1m 45.334s, P4/1m 42.959s, P4

Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 45.361s, P5/1m 43.183s, P6

Vettel reported some poor downshifts, but while he made optimistic noises about racing the Mercedes, Ricciardo was honest enough to admit that they were out of their league. Vettel earned two fines for pit-lane speeding.

Williams

Valtteri Bottas, 1m 45.913s, P8/1m 43.070s, P5

Felipe Massa, 1m 46.549s, P13/1m 43.558s, P10

Williams had a stressful morning after some cooling modifications led to trouble with the bodywork fasteners. Party of Bottas’s engine cover tore away in FP1, while Massa’s came loose. Modifications between sessions fixed the problem, but the team lost valuable track time.

Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 46.131s, P12/1m 43.489s, P7

Fernando Alonso, 1m 45.184s, P3/No time, P20

Alonso was third fastest in FP1 but then lost all of FP2 when his F14 T cut out for undisclosed reasons. He said that would thus make qualifying difficult as the session that matters most was FP2, rather than either FP1 or FP3. Raikkonen struggled with a nervous car in the first session, but went better in the second even though he made a mistake on his best lap.

Toro Rosso

Daniil Kvyat, 1m 45.835s, P7/1m 43.546s, P9

Jean-Eric Vergne, 1m 45.718s, P6/1m 44.157s, P14

Kvyat said he was generally happy with both sessions, but Vergne said his engine set-up wasn’t perfect in FP2, when the STR9 was also understeering.

Force India

Sergio Perez, 1m 45.983s, P9/1m 43.746s, P11

Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 46.030s, P10/1m 44.068s, P13

Neither driver reported any major problems here.

Lotus

Pastor Maldonado, 1m 46.711s, P15/1m 44.005s, P12

Romain Grosjean (pm only), 1m 44.986s, P17

Esteban Ocon (am only), 1m 47.066s, P16

Generally Lotus had a good day, and considering that this was his first taste of a proper 2014 car Ocon did a fine job in Grosjean’s E22 in FP1. Sadly, the latter will start either at the back of the grid or in the pit lane depending on what Lotus decide to do tomorrow, as the need to use a sixth Renault engine earned him a 20-place penalty.

Sauber

Esteban Gutierrez, 1m 46.556s, P14/1m 44.316s, P15

Adrian Sutil (pm only), 1m 44.763s, P16

Adderley Fong (am only), 1m 48.269s, P19

Gutierrez said his day went as well as could be expected, but when Sutil got his C33 back from Fong for FP2 the front brakes needed replacing and he lost a lot of time. Fong said his first experience of a 2014 car was a bit overwhelming compared to the C31 he drove recently at Valencia.

Caterham

Kamui Kobayashi, 1m 47.971s, P18/1m 45.505s, P18

Will Stevens, 1m 50.684s, P20/1m 47.057s, P19

The fact that Caterham made it to Abu Dhabi was a miracle in itself, thanks to the crowdfunding venture and the crucial assistance of suppliers Renault, Red Bull, Pirelli and Dell. Kobayashi had two trouble-free sessions, but newcomer Stevens was on his back foot after undisclosed technical problems lost him crucial time in FP1 on his F1 debut.