2013 Abu Dhabi GP Practice One: Romain Grosjean takes early honours for Lotus
Lotus, Mercedes and Red Bull dominate early running
By James Galloway at the Yas Marina Circuit. Last Updated: 04/11/13 8:29am
Romain Grosjean: An unusually strong start to the weekend for Lotus
In-form Romain Grosjean and Yas Marina specialist Lewis Hamilton have ensured the Abu Dhabi GP has at least got off to a less predictable start than has recently been the case by outpacing Sebastian Vettel at the head of the Practice One timesheet.
Vettel, fresh from clinching his fourth successive World Championship in India five days ago, has rarely been headed in any session since the summer break and both he and Red Bull have vowed there will be no let up over the three remaining races as they look to add to their glittering array of 2013 statistics.
However, P1 honours at a typically sun-kissed Yas Marina circuit did not go to the dominant German as for the first time this season Lotus driver Grosjean clocked the fastest time in an opening session. The Frenchman, on a career-best run of three straight podium finishes, clocked a time of 1:44.241s in the closing stages to edge out Mercedes' Hamilton by 0.192s around the 5.5km lap.
Hamilton and Vettel have proved the two standout performers in Abu Dhabi since the country first welcomed F1 to its high-tech facility in 2009 and the Briton's attempts to make up for his race-ending mechanical failure whilst leading here 12 months ago began in promising fashion with a strong second place on the timesheet.
As has become traditional here, Hamilton, until Grosjean's impressive late intervention, was managing to make the difference through the twisty, go-kart-style final sector of the lap that has the spectacular Yas Hotel as its centrepiece. The Briton was two tenths faster than Vettel alone through that part of the track.
Nonetheless, Vettel is a two-times winner here in his own right and it is not usually until the second practice session that Red Bull really begin to flex their muscles. Yet the German was still third on the P1 timesheets ahead of Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, with the second respective Mercedes and Lotus cars of Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen completing the top six.
With Lotus, Mercedes and Red Bull therefore dominating the early proceedings, Ferrari, who are in a tight fight with the former two teams for second place in the Constructors' Championship, made a particularly low-key start with Fernando Alonso down in 12th and Felipe Massa 17th.
That allowed both McLarens to finish in the top ten - Jenson Button was eighth and Sergio Perez tenth - with two men with so much speculation swirling over their futures, Force India's Paul Di Resta and Williams' Pastor Maldonado, seventh and ninth respectively.
The one crucial caveat to the Practice One order is that the session represents something of an anomaly in the race weekend given its 1pm local start is four hours earlier than either qualifying or the race. Temperature levels, which were at a sweltering 35C early on Friday afternoon, are therefore several degrees cooler once dusk arrives.
Nonetheless, on a low-grip surface for the start of the three-day event, numerous drivers had small moments where they inadvertently cut chicanes or ran briefly off the road.