Hamilton leads Verstappen into qualifying: Abu Dhabi practice round-up

Lewis Hamilton laid down his marker against title rival Max Verstappen, fastest in FP3 by two-tenths of a second


Hamilton had a comfortable advantage over Verstappen in second practice


Lewis Hamilton fired off a warning shot in the final practice session of the season, topping the times by 0.2sec over title rival Max Verstappen.

The championship contenders were in their own class, at least half a second clear of anyone else, with Valtteri Bottas third and Sergio Perez fourth some 0.75sec down on their respective team-mates.

Red Bull was forced into a rear wing swap on both cars following reliability issues with its DRS actuator again.

Mercedes meanwhile had its own struggles to deal with in the form of rear tyres overheating.

Here is how free practice unfolded ahead of the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.



The track steadily filled up in the opening minutes as drivers got out to get to grips with the new circuit.

Ferrari fitted an aero fence to the rear of Charles Leclerc’s car to gather data while Max Verstappen reported that his steering was leaning heavily to right-hand down.

The two had a close moment under the hotel with the Red Bull swiping across the front of Leclerc, much to the Monégasque’s disapproval.

Hamilton set the early pace on a 1min 26.290sec on the soft compound tyres, already almost 9sec quicker than the pole time from Verstappen last season on the old layout.

Pierre Gasly ran over the kerbs on the exit of Turn 9 and scraped off some of their paint but the aggressive exit kerbs will be an area of concern for teams this weekend.

Verstappen lowered the pace to beat even more, dipping to a 1min 25.602sec on softs. Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen were struggling with Turn 1, the former fighting a snap of oversteer and the latter locking-up on corner entry.

15 minutes into the session and Esteban Ocon was the first to have a close call with the barriers. The Frenchman dropped the rear out of Turn 14, narrowly avoiding the outside wall.

Hamilton had gone within two-tenths of his title rival until Verstappen lowered his benchmark time further to a 1min 25.300sec.

Sergio Perez and Bottas were over half a second behind their team-mates in third and fourth respectively, with Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon, Sebastian Vettel and Gasly making up the rest of the top 10 at the halfway stage.

Räikkönen suffered a spin at Turn 9 on the medium compound tyres, dropping the back end of his car on corner entry before recovering to the track.

Alonso got out of shape on a hot lap of his own at the exit of Turn 1, doing well to catch a sideways moment and keep the Alpine pointed the right way.

The fight at the front closed up again after Hamilton went for another run. He couldn’t go faster than his rival but the gap was down to just 0.055sec.

Ocon got stuck in neutral for half a lap but was able to get going once again.

Verstappen got a very nice tow from Alonso on his next effort to go fastest in sector two and three to go 0.346sec with a 1min 25.009sec.

Hamilton went again but was 0.2sec down in the middle sector. Despite a session-best first and third sector, he remained behind Verstappen by 0.033sec. He lost the time though due to exceeding track limits at the final corner, falling to third behind Bottas as a result.

Verstappen was involved in another close call with a driver, this time baulking Räikkönen on the run through Turn 3 and forcing the Alfa Romeo driver to back off to avoid contact.

Carlos Sainz suffered a lock-up into the Turn 6 chicane with under 10 minutes remaining of the session. He was ninth at the time, one place behind team-mate Leclerc.

Jack Aitken, driving George Russell’s Williams in FP1 almost suffered a spin in the final moments of the first session, fighting a snap of oversteer at Turn 3 but running wide to continue on without damage.




With conditions similar to those that the drivers will experience in qualifying and the race, FP2 got underway with the sun setting in Abu Dhabi.

Everyone was out on track straight away, running medium tyres barring both McLarens on softs and George Russell and Kimi Räikkönen on the hard compound.

Hamilton was the fastest over the line five minutes into the session on a 1min 25.127sec. He improved that time five minutes later to remain fastest while Verstappen closed the gap to go P2, 0.046sec off Hamilton’s 1min 24.943sec but lost his time for exceeding track limits.

Valtteri Bottas was the first to tag the barriers this weekend, sliding the rear of his Mercedes through Turn 14 and glancing the wall with the right-rear tyre. He recovered to the pits for a check over.

Nicholas Latifi was the next into the wall, spinning into the Turn 13 wall and damaging the rear wing. He was lucky to drive out and get back to the pits but had endplate damage in need of fixing.

Verstappen improved on his second lap to go back to within a tenth of Hamilton but the Mercedes improved to the tune of almost a full second to drop the benchmark time to a 1min 24.126, 0.9sec quicker than next best Verstappen lap.

Ocon was the best-placed non-title contender in third for Alpine with Norris, Ricciardo and Leclerc following in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively after 15 minutes of FP2.

Bottas was back out after his scare and on the soft tyres. He set a session-best third sector but slotted into second, 0.14sec behind his team-mate.

The Alpines were next across the line on softs with Alonso going 0.099sec shy of Hamilton’s effort in P2 until he lost his time for exceeding track limits while Ocon filtered into third place, 0.26sec down.

A second lap for Bottas on softs was good enough for the top spot by just under a tenth of a second but he couldn’t break into the 1min 23s. Hamilton’s first flying lap on softs was untidy with a wide moment at Turn 1 costing him time and he ended the lap second-fastest 0.023sec slower than Bottas.

Verstappen’s first soft tyre time was 0.249sec down on Bottas. Ocon went again and lowered his time to take the top spot but he too couldn’t get into the 23s.

Bottas was on a third flying lap on the same set of tyres and looking very quick but the Finn suffered a big lock-up into Turn 12 entering the hotel section and ran wide, ending his attempt.

Alonso was able to set a legal lap time to lift himself into the top five, behind only the two Mercedes drivers, Verstappen and session-topping Ocon.

Hamilton started a second flying lap on softs but had to fight oversteer again through Turn 1 and lost 0.2sec through the first sector, giving up his lap as a result. Likewise, Verstappen went for another lap but couldn’t find any time on his subsequent attempt.

Another attempt from Hamilton began with a cleaner first sector, the fastest of the session and he was up through the middle sector too. Despite a final sector that wasn’t a personal best, he cleared the bar for a 1min 23.691sec and topped the session by 0.343sec, over half a second clear of Verstappen.

Perez meanwhile displaced Alonso for fifth to go within a tenth of his team-mate.

Race runs began with 20 minutes of the session remaining and the title contenders were split. Hamilton ran the medium tyres while Verstappen opted for the softs.

Verstappen’s pace on the softs was strong, lapping in the mid-1min 28s and his pace was consistent too. But as the stints wore on, Mercedes upped its pace on mediums to break into the 1min 28s despite the tyre differential.

Perez’s pace on the mediums was promising too but he also fell away as the stints progressed versus the Black Arrows.

Just as the chequered flag fell, Räikkönen found the barriers on the exit of Turn 14 in a heavy crash for the Finn. He dropped the back end of the car mid-corner and the barriers caused a lot of damage despite the relatively low speed shunt.

Both the front and rear of the car was heavily damaged, leaving a long night of work ahead for Alfa Romeo’s mechanics.



Overnight, Pirelli raised minimum tyre pressures at the rear by 1psi and 1.5psi at the front and the FIA sanded down the diamond kerbs after concerns over the possibility of tyre failures.

Max Verstappen opted for a lower downforce ‘spoon’ rear wing to begin the session, following the lead of team-mate Sergio Perez from Friday’s running.

Both the title contenders emerged two minutes into the session, Verstappen opting for the mediums while Hamilton was on the hard compound.

A 1min 24.997sec from the Red Bull set the tone early and he lowered that time to a 1min 24.828sec with 10mins gone.

Hamilton never set a representative time on the hard tyres but was out on the softs after 12 minutes. Two session-best sectors in one and two were good enough to go top on a 1min 24.241sec.

With 15 minutes of the session gone, the track finally filled up with the majority of the field on track.

Another three purple sectors and a tow from team-mate Bottas meant Hamilton went 0.7sec clear at the top with a 1min 24.055sec.

Nicholas Latifi reported a strange issue with his dash coming loose. Charles Leclerc meanwhile suffered a sizeable lock-up into Turn 1 but continued on to make the corner.

Bottas was flying in the first and second sector and despite a snap of oversteer out of the final corner still went fastest overall to pip his team-mate for first by 0.030sec.

Perez, still on the medium tyres, improved to third place, 0.698sec down on the ultimate pace though with a tyre delta of around half-a-second.

A snap of oversteer at Turn 13 still couldn’t prevent Hamilton from shooting to the top of the times and into the 23s. A 1min 23.274sec was comfortably fastest of all on a set of tyres nine laps old.

Pierre Gasly cracked the top five on hard tyres, a tenth off of Verstappen’s medium compound time.

More rear wing repairs at Red Bull meant a swarm of mechanics were fixing the DRS actuator yet again. A replacement wing was fitted to both cars.

Verstappen wound up for a qualifying sim with 15mins left of the final practice session of the season.

A lock-up into Turn 6 sent him deep into the corner and he missed the apex, backing out of the attempt, “It just doesn’t f****** turn,” was his assessment.

Hamilton had another close call with Nikita Mazepin forcing the Russian driver to take avoiding action for the second week running.

He followed up with a flying lap and was purple in the first sector but lost time in the middle. A heavy lock up into Turn 12 sent him off the track and the lap was lost.

Verstappen had another go and despite being 0.3sec down in the first two sectors, found time in the twisty third sector to go P2, 0.2sec off of Hamilton and into the 23s.

Lando Norris shot up to P4, six-tenths ahead of his team-mate as the clock ticked to under eight minutes to go.

Another lap from Verstappen improved his times through sectors one and two, 0.2sec down on Hamilton’s time but a snap of oversteer at Turn 9 ended the lap and he backed off.