Valtteri Bottas prepared for his back-of-the-grid start in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by setting the pace in both practice sessions on Friday, with Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in second just ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Armed with a fresh but penalty-triggering engine for the season finale following a rare Mercedes failure in Brazil, Bottas maintained his advantage from P1 with a fastest lap of P2 of 1:36.256.
That was three tenths of a second faster than the similarly-matched Hamilton and Leclerc in the ‘twilight’ evening conditions of the desert.
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But Bottas was later involved in an unusual Friday crash with Haas’ Romain Grosjean on the race runs, the two cars colliding at Turn 11 as the Mercedes attempted to overtake and both sustaining damage.
There was just 0.076s separating Hamilton and Leclerc at the end of Friday, despite the latter earlier tagging the same barriers that team-mate Sebastian Vettel crashed into during the first session.
Vettel avoided any P2 dramas, however, and was 0.4s off the pace in fourth.
However, Interlagos victors Red Bull look as though they may be playing catch up in Abu Dhabi after Max Verstappen finished half a second off the pace in fifth.
“I think we’ve got a good battle on our hands here between Mercedes and Ferrari,” predicted Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok.
“I wouldn’t yet discount Verstappen.”
Verstappen said: “The car felt okay, but we still have some work to do.”
Grosjean still leads midfield despite Bottas tangle
Backing up his strong performance in the day-time opening session, Romain Grosjean underlined that the recalcitrant 2019 Haas car does still possess a good turn of speed as the Frenchman again lapped sixth-fastest, just behind Alexander Albon.
His clash with Bottas, however, ended the Frenchman’s running slightly earlier than planned.
“What the f*** was that?” said Grosjean over Haas team radio after making contact with the lunging Mercedes as he turned in to take the corner.
Unusually, neither McLaren nor Renault, fourth and fifth respectively in the championship, finished with cars in the top 10 – although the former were only just outside, whereas the Enstone team’s cars were towards the foot of the order.
That meant Sergio Perez finished eighth for Racing Point, with the two Toro Rossos rounding out the top 10.
This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission.
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