Practice 1: Hamilton strikes first on new track
30 October, 2009
Inevitably the opening practice session of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, on the spanking new Yas Marina Circuit, would be littered with firsts.
- The first driver out on track: Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing)
- First driver to set a flying lap: Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso)
- First driver to spin: Jenson Button (Brawn GP)
- And of course first driver to top a practice session: Lewis Hamilton (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes)
Thus at 1.00pm local time with the ambient temperature in the mid 30s celcius and the track temperature in the upper 40s. Official Formula 1 action got underway at Yas Marina in front of a surprisingly meager crowd.. Well action would be an exaggeration as for the first half an hour or so it was the Toro Rosso duo getting to grips with the track which is visibly “green” and slippery.
Nevertheless it was opportune to see what the Abu Dhabi venue has in store for the Formula 1 contingent. No doubt a state-of-the-art facility, perhaps the best in the world at this stage. Set in a magnificent surrounding which a mere two and a bit years ago was a stretch of sand. Wriggling through a marina and a futuristic hotel the track offers a mix of fast, technical stretches mingling with Monaco style hairpins and chicanes. The straight is massive and the width of the track should easily accommodate half a dozen F1 cars side by side.
By the 45 minute mark all but Adrian Sutil (Force India) were out learning the circuit. Invariably there were numerous excursions by drivers testing the limit of braking and adhesion. No worries as they have acres of run-off to accommodate their errant ways.
Red Bull Racing duo Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were early pace setters as the heavy hitters started posting meaningful times. The next half an hour saw World Champions Hamilton and Button swap fastest laps, before the McLaren driver broke into the 1 minute 43 second mark and stayed at the top until the session ended, lending truth to his claim before the race that he learns new tracks quickly.
It will be interesting to see if the top runners will set times below the 100 seconds barrier as the weekend progresses and the track gets “rubbered in”.
At the end Hamilton topped the timing screens with Button second quickest followed by Vettel, third fastest. Behind the trio, but not far off the pace, was Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP) fourth quickest, Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) fifth, Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) sixth, Sutil seventh, Webber eighth, Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) ninth and Jarno Trulli (Panasonic Toyota) rounding up the top ten.
With Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher in attendance in the Ferrari pit Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 15th fastest lap with Giancarlo Fisichella down in 18th. Abu Dhabi is a home away from home for Ferrari as the government investment company holds shares in the Maranello concern and the team is sponsored by the Etihad, airline of the emirate. A good showing would be welcome but alas the F60, which continues to be one of the worst chassis out there, is unlikely to deliver the goods.
At the end it was less than a second separating the top eight drivers and seven different constructors in the top ten. Despite the sweltering heat and the novelty of the place, it turned out to be a remarkably incident free inaugural session.
Early indications are that McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Brawn GP are squaring up for a dogfight and are the teams to beat in the season finale. Ask anyone, it is always good to win the last race of the season.
For obvious reasons there was very much a “last day at school” vibe to the Yas Marina F1 paddock, not helped by the empty grandstands which will no doubt have the organizers frowning, as they have done just about everything possible to promote the event, claiming a 60,000 ticket sellout, but putting bums on seats is beyond their control. Maybe they will arrive after lunch…
2009 FORMULA 1 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX
Free Practice 1 Results
|5||6||Nick Heidfeld||BMW Sauber||1:44.667||0.728||23|
|7||20||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:44.688||0.749||14|
|11||5||Robert Kubica||BMW Sauber||1:44.988||1.049||22|
|17||21||Vitantonio Liuzzi||Force India-Mercedes||1:46.239||2.300||22|