Championship leader finishes first ahead of title rival Rosberg in opening practice at Yas Marina Circuit
As the title deciding race of the 2014 Formula One World Championship got underway at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, championship leader Lewis Hamilton seized the early initiative by taking top spot in the opening practice session.
The Briton recorded a lap of 1:43.476 to finish 0.133s ahead of title rival Nico Rosberg. Hamilton enters the weekend 17 points ahead of Rosberg, who has to win the race to stand any chance of winning the title. However, should Rosberg win, Hamilton could finish second and still take the title.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who yesterday confirmed that he is to quit the team at the end of the season, finished a distant third, 1.7 seconds behind pacesetter Hamilton.
The gap back to third place might have less had Williams’ running not been cut short when both its cars suffered identical body work failures.
Felipe Mass completed just seven laps before part of his FW36’s right sidepod came loose and he was forced back to the pits. Team-mate Valtteri Bottas, with one more lap on the board, suffered the same issue. Neither car would run again in the session, with the team later blaming a new cooling configuration for the issue.
Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne were sixth and seventh respectively for Toro Rosso, while Bottas’ best time was still good enough for eighth place, albeit nearly 2.5s down on Hamilton’s lap. Sergio Perez finished ninth ahead of Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.
Several young drivers made their grand prix weekend debut in the session. FIA Formula 3 European Championship winner Esteban Ocon was handed a drive at Lotus for the session, replacing Romain Grosjean. Ocon finished the session in 16th place, immediately behind Maldonado and a respectable three tenths of a second adrift of the experience Venezuelan.
GP3 racer Adderly Fong took over Adrian Sutil’s Sauber and set the day’s 19th fastest time, 4.7s off the pace.
The troubled Caterham team returned to grand prix weekend action for the first time since the Russian Grand Prix with race regular Kamui Kobayashi finishing 18th. The team handed a debut to Will Stevens, who finished this years Formula Renault 3.5 championship in sixth place. The young Briton’s first F1 session was a frustrating experience after he experienced technical problems on his first lap and returned to the garage. He eventually returned to the fray in the closing stages of the session, but with little time available to exploire the car’s limits Stevens finished last and seven seconds off the pace.