- Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - FP1
Vettel fastest in free practice 1
Sebastian Vettel laid down an early marker at the start of the eagerly-awaited Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend as the title contenders felt their way around a drying Yas Marina circuit on Friday's opening free practice session.
The Red Bull driver clocked a quickest time of 1:42.760 to top the timesheets from Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and team-mate Mark Webber. Championship leader Fernando Alonso finished the session sixth fastest ahead of Michael Schumacher's Mercedes, but not too much should be read into his lap times as he was likely running a heavy fuel load, with his high-mileage engine turned down.
After a rainstorm in the morning, the session started on a damp track and drivers completed their installation laps on intermediate tyres. Under the beating desert sun the surface soon dried, but left a dusty residue on the surface that caused problems for the slick tyres.
For the best part of half an hour drivers sat in their garages, not wanting to be the first to head out in the difficult conditions. Vitaly Petrov eventually broke the silence but the extreme lack of grip meant his first timed lap was over 10 seconds off the target time for Saturday's qualifying.
However, he was improving lap on lap and that soon prompted the rest of the field to follow suit and attempt a slick tyre run. Of the front runners, the Red Bull duo set the pace, but as the track conditions improved the fastest lap tended to go to the driver who had most recently crossed the line.
With 20 minutes remaining the times levelled off around the 1:43 mark, with Vettel taking the upper-hand in the intra-team battle at Red Bull. Hamilton had spent even longer in the garage than most, but when he hit the track he started to lap on a par with Vettel. The pair traded fastest laps, while Webber dropped to a second off the pace in the second Red Bull.
Hamilton logged his fastest time after running well wide in the final two corners, but his scrappy approach was no match for Vettel, who found 0.6 seconds on the McLaren in the final two sectors. Webber gave up a lap or two before the end, parking his Red Bull in the garage and looking despondently at the hard tyres that had just been removed by his mechanics.
The session was mostly drama-free, with just a few missed braking points and spins early on. However, once the chequered flag had been put out, and after completing a practice start on the grid, Rubens Barrichello's Williams came to an unceremonious halt on the circuit.