Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

Sebastian Vettel could be difficult to beat once again this weekend, as he demonstrated fantastic short and long run performance throughout today. The newly re-crowned champion finished only P3 in the first session, yet proved his performance advantage in FP2 as he led another Red Bull 1-2 at the top of the timesheet. Lotus could prove to be Red Bull’s biggest challengers this weekend, as Romain Grosjean set the pace in FP1 before Kimi Raikkonen posted impressive long run times in the second session.

FP1

Romain Grosjean got Lotus’ weekend off to a flying start as the Frenchman topped the timesheet in FP1. Roman’s performances have seriously improved of late, with consistency being added to his unquestioned speed and with Raikkonen finishing in P6, it is a very positive start for the Enstone team. 
However, it was not the easiest of sessions for the teams as a very green Yas Marina circuit kept the majority of drivers in the garages for the opening 30 minutes. When cars eventually emerged, drivers complained of a serious lack of grip on the medium compound tyre, with the McLaren’s and Ferrari’s in particular suffering understeer. Jenson Button was especially vocal in his complaints and the team responded by implementing a ride height change. While this marginally improved the situation, McLaren certainly have a great deal of work to do in FP2 and FP3 if they wish to be competitive at the business end of the weekend.
In addition to low grip levels, drivers were informed by their engineers to seek out the shaded areas of the track as tyre temperatures for the majority, were at critical levels. With a midday track temperature of 47 degrees, this was hardly surprising. However, these issues should not affect strategies and plans for the teams as the time of day in which FP1 took place is not representative of either Qualifying or the race, since this is of course a twilight event. FP2 will give a more accurate reading of possible thermal degradation which may need to be factored into strategic plans for Sunday’s race.
While Ferrari were struggling, Fernando Alonso was somewhat the centre of attention, as FOM have introduced an interesting new on board camera for this weekend, which they are trialling on the Spaniard’s Ferrari. The camera, which is mounted on the left hand side of the car just behind the drivers head, takes inspiration from other leading motorsport series, as it pivots 180 degrees, allowing viewers to switch seamlessly from looking at the left rear to looking at the front left hand side of the car. It should be particularly interesting if Fernando Alonso becomes involved in a close battle with another driver during the race.
Elsewhere, it was also a positive morning for Mercedes, as Lewis Hamilton once again shined in the final sector – an area in which the Brit has thrived on previous visits to this circuit. Both Mercedes and Lotus seem to be well clear of the Ferrari’s this weekend, yet FP2 will allow more of an insight. Red Bull once again look strong, but perhaps do not have as big an advantage as in previous races. They could of course be sandbagging, but a P3 for Vettel in FP1 is a definite change to recent proceedings.
FP1 Timesheet

01 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:44.241 21 laps

02 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.433 +0.192 22 laps
03 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:44.499 +0.258 18 laps
04 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:44.712 +0.471 19 laps
05 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:44.741 +0.500 23 laps
06 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:44.929 +0.688 22 laps
07 Paul di Resta Force India 1:45.040 +0.799 19 laps
08 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.099 +0.858 19 laps
09 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:45.150 +0.909 23 laps
10 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:45.331 +1.090 19 laps
11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:45.378 +1.137 22 laps
12 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.440 +1.199 18 laps
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:45.823 +1.582 21 laps
14 James Calado Force India 1:45.924 +1.683 19 laps
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:46.068 +1.827 17 laps
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:46.114 +1.873 22 laps
17 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:46.124 +1.883 17 laps
18 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:46.126 +1.885 20 laps
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:47.600 +3.359 21 laps
20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:47.670 +3.429 21 laps
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:47.723 +3.482 22 laps
22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia 1:49.565 +5.324 21 laps

FP2

It was back to the usual business for Sebastian Vettel as the German emphatically topped the timesheet as night fell in the Marina. Mark Webber rounded off an impressive Red Bull 1-2, in what was an incident packed session.
Undoubtedly, Red Bull are once again the team to beat, with Lewis Hamilton suggesting that there will be no stopping Vettel this weekend, despite my initial optimism for a close battle at the business end of the field. We may still be in for a treat on Sunday, but Vettel has certainly shown his competitors a few of his tricks prior to a crucial Saturday. With the Yas Marina circuit being notoriously difficult to overtake on, a positive Saturday is crucial and Red Bull could well be on their way to a front-row lockout.
However, Lewis Hamilton will look to spoil the Red Bull party tomorrow, as his Mercedes has shown glimpses of raw pace throughout today, especially through sector three – Hamilton’s speciality. This culminated in his impressive P3 standing, albeit 0.35 behind Vettel. With Rosberg in P5, Mercedes will hope to mount a serious challenge to both Vettel and Webber on Saturday, similar to last week. However, fans of the Silver Arrows may face another difficult Sunday, as the long runs have not been stunning and they may well find themselves under attack from the Lotus duo.
Kimi Raikkonen built on his strong P6 in FP1 to finish up P4 in the second session. The Finn also demonstrated scintillating long run pace which could be a concern to Red Bull. However, Kimi did not display a positive demeaner after the session as he revealed that Lotus have not paid him all season. The speculation of a rift between him and the team will not die down and it will undoubtedly be a major talking point throughout the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean suffered a highly truncated session as he suffered brake issues. His brake disc had seemingly snapped in half and on a circuit where braking is critical, this will concern the team.
Elsewhere, Perez and Button finished P6 and P7 on the timesheet respectively, as the McLaren duo experienced a more promising FP2. It emerged that they have been running a low downforce setup to maximise their potential on the DRS straights. McLaren are seemingly sensing that radical strategies are the only way in which they can gain that all important podium. Button also suffered a puncture during the session – the resulting “funny smell” was detected by a number of drivers.

FP2 Timesheet        
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:41.335 32 laps
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:41.490 +0.155 32 laps
03 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.690 +0.355 36 laps
04 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:41.726 +0.391 40 laps
05 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:41.758 +0.423 39 laps
06 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:42.006 +0.671 34 laps
07 Jenson Button McLaren 1:42.010 +0.675 29 laps
08 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:42.171 +0.836 29 laps
09 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:42.324 +0.989 39 laps
10 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:42.440 +1.105 34 laps
11 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:42.509 +1.174 36 laps
12 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:42.607 +1.272 18 laps
13 Paul di Resta Force India 1:42.806 +1.471 25 laps
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:42.952 +1.617 34 laps
15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:42.998 +1.663 25 laps
16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:43.152 +1.817 27 laps
17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:43.271 +1.936 34 laps
18 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:43.565 +2.230 34 laps
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:44.138 +2.803 33 laps
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:44.459 +3.124 33 laps
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1:44.525 +3.190 36 laps
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:45.565 +4.230 25 laps

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