Abu Dhabi GP Practice Roundup: Bottas dominates Friday despite penalty

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Valtteri Bottas put aside his looming back row start on Sunday to set the pace in both practice sessions in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

The Mercedes driver, who won at Yas Marina in 2017, began by largely dominating the first 90-minute under the blazing desert sun in the UAE, as he used his fresh engine to overpower his rivals and finish half a second clear of Max Verstappen in the Red Bull.

As for teammate Lewis Hamilton, he would run the symbolic No.1 on the front of his car during the first session to commemorate his sixth world title.

But it was a tricky start as the Briton complained of engine and brake issues before ultimately, claiming third.

Meanwhile, Ferrari eased their way into the weekend with Sebastian Vettel fifth and Charles Leclerc seventh, two seconds off the pace set by Bottas.

Not too much could be read into the lap times, however, with the daytime temperatures at Yas Marina much higher than those around sunset for both qualifying and the race.

In addition, the first practice saw two red flags, causing the session to be suspended for incidents on track.

First, Daniel Ricciardo suffered an engine failure which spewed oil onto the racetrack and forced the Renault driver to pull over.

Pierre Gasly had also just been overtaken by the Australian and wasn’t happy with the faceful of oil he received in his Toro Rosso.

With the final corner covered in cement dust to soak up the oil, lap times didn’t improve until the end of the session.

That wouldn't stop Vettel from a late spin having light the rear tyres up on the throttle on the apex kerb of Turn 19, with the rear-left of his Ferrari hitting the barrier.

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With less than two minutes on the clock, the session would not be restarted.

The second session at sundown and under the lights would see the drivers completed the first qualifying-style laps on the soft compound tyre.

Again, Bottas would set the pace, improving to a 1:36.256s to finish three-tenths clear of Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes proved why they are unbeaten at Yas Marina since 2014.

Bottas’ table-topping times are irrelevant, however, as he starts from the back of the grid following an engine change.

In the shadow of Ferrari World, this race hasn’t been kind to their Formula 1 team who are yet to win in Abu Dhabi and it was another difficult session for the Italian team.

Charles Leclerc would claim third but only after narrowly avoiding disaster midway through the session as he banged the barrier exiting Turn 19.

The Monegasque wasn’t alone in having a scare at the seemingly harmless left-hander as Antonio Giovinazzi spun after Bottas had run a little wider than he would have hoped.

Sebastian Vettel, who wasn’t so lucky at Turn 19 in the first session, followed in fourth in the second Ferrari as both opted to use a second set of soft tyres during the qualifying-style runs.

Despite only finishing fifth, Max Verstappen could be best placed to challenge Mercedes after running wide at Turn 1 on his fastest lap.

Also, the Red Bull driver had matched the pace of Bottas earlier in the session when using the medium compound tyre.

Verstappen’s teammate Alex Albon couldn’t keep up with the pace at the front though, finishing half a second down on Max in sixth.

Romain Grosjean led the midfield runners in seventh, but it was very close with only 0.05s covering the Haas driver, Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat in ninth.

Grosjean would also be involved in drama during the race simulations, which take place in the final half of the session, as he and Bottas collided at Turn 11, causing a red flag.

Pierre Gasly would complete the top 10 in the Toro Rosso, just ahead of Carlos Sainz, with whom he’s battling for sixth place in the Drivers’ standings and both start the weekend on 95 points.

Saturday brings a final hour of practice before the serious action of qualifying itself to decide the grid for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Full final results from second practice can be seen below:

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