The final Friday of the 2019 F1 season in Abu Dhabi GP had plenty of dramas in the two sessions with offs and collisions all part of the game.
The final Friday of the 2019 F1 season in Abu Dhabi GP was successful one in the books for Mercedes, who started their final weekend of the year as they did their first – being top of the time sheets in both FP1 and FP2 courtesy Valtteri Bottas.
The German team’s day, however, was not without fault, as an attempted overtake by Bottas on Haas’ Romain Grosjean saw the pair of them sent spinning, with damage on both of their respective cars in the second session under the floodlights.
Bottas was handed a reprimand by the F1 stewards for the incident after he accepted blame. Looking at the weekend, the Finn felt competitive. “It’s been a good day out on track; the car was well-balanced from the get-go,” said the Mercedes driver. “I had to take a fresh engine for the weekend which also seems be to working well.
“My pace looked competitive in both sessions, so from that perspective we’ve definitely started the last race weekend of the season off on the right foot, although I’m sure there’s still room for improvement. The track was a bit dusty on the first few runs in FP1.
“But it evolved quickly and then felt pretty good all through the session. The end of my FP2 session was compromised by a minor incident with Grosjean; I thought he had seen me going for the overtake on the inside, but by the time I realised that he hadn’t seen me, there was no way for me to escape anymore.”
Teammate Lewis Hamilton struggled as well, albeit, the six time champion had different reasons to be disappointed, as he mainly failed to get to grips with the car, on what he described as an off day, in which he finished third in FP1 and second in FP2.
Unlike at Mercedes, however, problems at Ferrari were mostly put down to the car, which both drivers reported as lacking pace, even across the soft and medium compounds, which both the Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc used.
Vettel had a spin in FP1, before finishing fifth in that session, and improving to fourth in FP2. “In the medium low speed corners of this circuit we are still lacking speed, compared to our rivals,” said Vettel. “Sector three is the one that really hurts us, we are struggling with the tyres getting hot, and the car is difficult to drive.
“Of course when you drive on the limit, any car will be more difficult to drive, and this what we are here to do. We will try our best to have a solid weekend, we can improve the set up and then see if we can fight well on Sunday. I also hit the barriers.
“I was caught out a bit by surprise as I didn’t expect to spin. I knew going in that I would have to catch the rear, but it didn’t quite work, which was a bit unfortunate, but the only damage was to the rim. Leclerc, meanwhile, tempted fate with a similar incident when he brushed the wall in FP2, but managed to get away with it, albeit, with a tyre change.
Leclerc is looking to get third in the drivers’ championship by beating Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, who had more confidence in his car than his Ferrari counterpart. The Monegasque finished seventh in FP1, but gained several positions to third in FP2.
The Dutchman did the opposite, coming second in FP1, and dropping a handful of positions to fifth in FP2. “Overall, it was a pretty decent Friday,” said Verstappen. “I’m not entirely happy with the balance yet and there are of course still some things we need to look at and do better but overall I’m pretty pleased.
“Mercedes look very strong here again and will be hard to beat but I still think it will be close. We will analyse the tyre data later today but overall there are no real surprises. The soft is quick over one lap and on race runs it drops off as expected.”
In the other Red Bull, Alexander Albon was equally content with his day, where he finished fourth and then sixth, although he feels some extra work is required on his car. Leading the midfield in surprising fashion, Haas found themselves thrilled as the sun set on Friday.
The team is testing a potential 2020 package which saw them soar up the field, particularly Grosjean, who was sandwiched between Ferrari’s in FP1 in sixth, before dropping a position to seventh in FP2. But the crash with Bottas forces him to switch back to his 2019 spec.
“I was running a modified package, one that I hadn’t run before, so we were really doing it to get my feedback and to learn for the future,” said Grosjean. “In FP1 I was really happy with the floor, the modifications and so on, so I said let’s carry on with it into the second session. Unfortunately, we only had one of that package.
“We have to change the car back. It’s not great as we did a really good job today with sixth in FP1 and seventh in FP2, best of the rest in both sessions. Yes, race pace can be improved, but we tried a few different things and we know where we could have done better.
“We need to revert to another package. Valtteri (Bottas) apologised, he made a mistake, he even offered me one of his floors but we have to stick with what we know.” Even without the enlisted help of a new floor, however, Haas look to be set for a successful weekend, as, prior to traffic in FP2, Kevin Magnussen also had stellar pace in FP1, finishing eighth, and only dropping back to 14th due to circumstance in the latter practice.
It was a mixed bag behind Haas as in FP1, it was Alfa Romeo but in FP2, Toro Rosso took the place. It was a drastic change for Alfa Romeo pair from FP1 to FP2 as the cooler conditions hurt their pace under the floodlights.
Like Vettel and Leclerc, even Antonio Giovinazzi had a spin in the same corner. The Italian though managed to save his car. “We looked strong in FP1, but qualifying conditions will look a lot more like FP2 when it was cooler,” he said. “We will need to check everything we learnt today, come up with a good setup and put it all together when it matters.
“I made a small mistake when pushing, but didn’t touch the wall. In the end, you’re trying to find the limit and this is what practice is for. The track is quite long and the gaps are naturally bigger, but the battle in the midfield will still be close. We will need to analyse all the data we got tonight and make the right choices for Saturday.”
There was consistency from Racing Point in both the F1 sessions as they positioned themselves among those at the front of the midfield pack, as Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez managed to extract the most from their car. Both feel confident with the work.
At the same time, McLaren seems to be on the backfoot as they failed to upkeep their form in F1 Abu Dhabi GP, after securing fourth in the championship last race. Both Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz ended up outside the Top 10 in FP1 as well as FP2 sessions.
They feel there was not much lacking at their end but just that the field has bunched up tightly in F1 Abu Dhabi GP. Also in the slump list was Renault, who were left wanting more after Friday’s festivities, as one of their drivers, Daniel Ricciardo, had an engine failure in FP1, and Nico Hulkenberg had lackluster running.
“It wasn’t the smoothest Friday for us,” said Ricciardo. “We missed a bit of running with the engine issue in the first session and, in the evening, we made some changes to the car. We were a bit off the pace, we haven’t quite found the balance yet, so we’ll be looking for some further tweaks ahead of qualifying.
“I’m feeling confident we’ll get there and find the sweet spot to put us in a pretty good place for qualifying and for the race.” Renault confirmed that it was a Friday F1 engine and it was to be replaced anyways. His issue caught out Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly though.
He was directly behind Ricciardo when oil poured out of the Renault. “It was a bit of a messy FP1 between the red flags and getting blocked on my second run, so it wasn’t an ideal session as we didn’t do many laps,” said Gasly. “The good thing was we were still able to test a couple of things we had planned.
“FP2 was a better session, as between the two cars we completed more testing ahead of Qualifying and the race, so now we have good things to analyse to decide what’s the best configuration. I’m happy with this afternoon, the long-run pace was strong.
“I think there’s more to come in the short runs. To finish in the top ten today makes us feel positive,” said Gasly, as his teammate, Daniil Kvyat was equally happy with the day. Unlike in past races, George Russell enjoyed the feel of his Williams.
He still felt a lack of pace – something which the times reflected, as both drivers failed to leave the bottom three. The British driver was a bit down due to health in FP1 but managed it well in FP2 and feels OK to continue for the rest of the F1 Abu Dhabi GP weekend.
Here’s how F1 Abu Dhabi GP FP1 panned out
Here’s how F1 Abu Dhabi GP FP2 panned out
The story was written by Duncan Leahy and edited by Darshan Chokhani