Abu Dhabi GP: Bottas fastest in FP2 as Mercedes show their speed

Valtteri Bottas set the pace in free practice two ahead of this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, finishing just over two tenths quicker than team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver, who was comprehensively outperformed by George Russell last week, set a 1m36.276s on the medium tyres as drivers struggled to adhere to track limits, especially coming out of the final corner.

After getting the required test-tyre running out the way, it was Hamilton who went quickest initially on the medium tyres, before Bottas eclipsed the returning Brit by 0.203s.

The two Mercedes drivers did improve on the softs but had their times deleted, leaving their times on the yellow-marked tyres as an ominous marker for the rest of the field.

Behind them, the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon finished the session third and fourth respectively, but were way off the pace up front.

Verstappen’s best time on the softs was 0.770s slower, while Albon, who had multiple times deleted, was more than two tenths behind his team-mate and almost a second behind Bottas.

Lando Norris finished an impressive fifth in a McLaren car that looked planted, and behind him the midfield battle could hardly have been closer.

Esteban Ocon, Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo in sixth through ninth were separated by just 0.003s, with Lance Stroll rounding out the top ten a further five hundredths back.

Daniil Kvyat was the lead AlphaTauri in 11th ahead Carlos Sainz who will have been disappointed to finish seven places adrift of his team-mate.

Next on the timesheets were Pierre Gasly and Kimi Raikkonen in 13th and 14th, ahead of Sebastian Vettel who finished the session almost two seconds off top spot.

Kevin Magnussen was 16th as his time in Formula 1 comes to a close – for now anyway – and behind him came the second Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi.

Last week’s nearly man, Russell, returned to the back of the pack in the Williams although in 18th he still outpaced his team-mate by more than three tenths of a second, and Pietro Fittipaldi split the Williams cars in 19th.

And there was late drama as Raikkonen’s engine caught fire and brought out the red flag which ate up more than 10 minutes of crucial long-run time for the teams.

Abu Dhabi FP2 as it happened

Drivers were obliged to run a minimum of eight laps on the prototype tyres for next year with most choosing to complete that running at the start of the session.

Bottas set the early pace with a 1:37.818s – less than half a second slower than Vertsappen’s FP1 time – with Hamilton just under a tenth behind. Perhaps ominously, third-placed Pierre Gasly got closest to the Mercedes’ on the test tyre, 1.103s behind.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand and Hamilton immediately smashed Bottas’ time – and indeed Verstappen’s from FP1 – when he strapped on this year’s medium tyres. A 1:36.479s had the seven-time world champion 1.339s clear at the front before the rest of the field followed suit and ditched the 2021 rubber.

Albon was next to cross the line half a second down before his time was deleted for breaching track limits before Bottas then usurped his team-mate by two tenths with a blistering time of 1:36.276.

Last week’s race-winner, Perez, lit up sector one but an untidy finish to the lap meant he had to settle for third as the Mercedes began to look in a league of its own.

Albon’s quest for a legal lap continued as he had his fourth time deleted, before his team-mate took third with his first flying lap on the mediums, albeit still more than seven tenths down on Bottas.

And at the halfway point, the McLaren duo of Sainz and Norris were impressively sitting fifth and sixth respectively despite running the hard compound tyres.

Hamilton was the first of the front-runners to take to the circuit in the red-marked soft tyres and improved marginally before his time was deleted for exceeding track limits coming out of the last corner.

Bottas then had a go and didn’t even make it past Turn One, running wide and aborting immediately.

With most drivers now on the track with softs, times began to tumble. Leclerc moved up to sixth breifly and Albon finally made a lap count to put himself fourth.

Norris in the McLaren then went fifth, dropping Leclerc down to seventh, before Verstappen was forced to abort a flying lap when he ran into traffic.

In the other Ferrari, Vettel’s struggles in the SF1000 challenger continued. The German was more than half a second slower than his team-mate and finished his qualifying-style runs in 15th.

Into the final 30 minutes and attention turned to the long runs.

But teams won’t have gathered the data they would have liked as Raikkonen’s engine caught fire, bringing out the red flag.

And there was more late drama when the session resumed. With little under five minutes to go, Hamilton’s Mercedes appeared to shutdown before he could exit the pitlane.

Pulling up in front of the Haas garage, the mechanics caught up with car number 44 and were able to get it going again.

And out on track, Albon appeared to be blocked needlessly by Ocon going down the straight, a move which could see him penalised.

The session finished as you were and leaves a mouth-watering prospect, especially in the midfield, ahead of tomorrow.

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