McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton headed the timesheets on Friday's second practice at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, run partially in twilight conditions, with only floodlights lighting the track. The starting grid for Sunday's Formula One race will be set in tomorrow afternoon's qualifying session.
"The circuit is cool," said Kovalainen, who set a time of 1:41.307 in the second session. "It's very smooth with good grip and the kerbs are nice. Turns Two and Three are not easy-flat, but, with the good balance of the car, they're fun.On the straight, KERS gives us an additional benefit. We can use it for maximum performance and it's worth three-and-a-half to four tenths."
Kovalainen, whose final run on soft tires was nearly two tenths (0.197 seconds) faster than Hamilton's best time, suffered from brake problems in the first session, where he was some 1.2 seconds of Hamilton's pace-setting lap times, but the team resolved the issue in time for second practice, allowing the Finn to claim the Friday bragging rights.
"The whole day was pretty good. We'd already done some good work in Woking preparing for this circuit, so we had a good balance right from the start this morning. However, we had a brake issue during first practice which we couldn't sort out during the session. This afternoon, we got it sorted and were able to improve considerably, with both tyres working well."
The McLaren Mercedes team is feeling cautiously confident with how well the cars are working on the track. Top times in each session (for Hamilton and Kovalainen, respectively) and good handling characteristics give hope for the Woking outfit for a run to the front of the grid tomorrow.
"It looks like we might be quite competitive here -- our long runs appear to be good, the car feels great and the track is great, " said Hamilton. "We'll have to see what happens tomorrow, because the track conditions are always changing, but we feel quite comfortable with the pace we have. Our car seems to behave quite well over the kerbs, we've got the balance feeling quite good today."
Newly-crowned World Champion Jenson Button was right behind in each session, taking second in the first session, a tenth behind Hamilton, and then just a 0.037 seconds off the Briton's pace in the second one. It actually looked like the first session's Hamilton-Button finish was to be repeated in the second session, but that was before Kovalainen set the fast time of the day in the dying moments of the session.
Still, the Brawn Mercedes cars are clearly on pace again, with Button second and third while his Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello finished the sessions fourth and eighth. Both drivers also found the track interesting and challenging.
"The Yas Marina circuit is certainly an interesting one," Button said. "When you look at the layout, it doesn't seem that exciting but when you actually drive it, it's fantastic. The track has a bit of everything with high and low speed corners, positive and negative camber and the walls are pretty close to you most of the way round."
Button's championship rival during the season, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, was also consistent, 0.118 seconds behind Button in the first session and then just 0.050 seconds adrift of the Brawn driver in the second.
Toyota's Kamui Kobayashi, driving in only his second F1 race this weekend, was the positive surprise of the second session, as the 23-year-old Japanese driver set the session's fifth-fastest time at 1:41.636, less than a third of a second off Kovalainen's hot lap. With all drivers seeing the circuit for the first time, Kobayashi didn't have the usual rookie handicap of unfamiliarity with the track. In the event, he outpaced his far more experienced teammate, Jarno Trulli, by 0.773 seconds.
"Today went well and it was interesting to drive on this track for the first time; it is a fantastic venue," said Kobayashi. "This is the second time in two weeks I have had to learn a new circuit so it is becoming a familiar experience. I learnt a lot from the Brazil weekend which has already helped me here in Abu Dhabi. We have quite a lot of data from today and that will allow us to find areas to improve. I believe we can make another step in terms of performance before qualifying and then I will do my best to start as high as possible."
Mark Webber, in the second Red Bull-Renault, was seventh-fastest in the second day, but behind the Ferrari-power of their Toro Rosso sister team's Sebastian Buemi, who claimed a solid sixth place on the timesheets in each of the two sessions.
Ninth in the second session, after Rubens Barrichello's Brawn, was Nico Rosberg in his final race for the Williams-Toyota team. The Grove team will likely be changing not only both of its drivers but engine suppliers as well: the team announced an extensive long-term agreement with Cosworth.
"Cosworth is delighted to be renewing our partnership with Williams," said Mark Gallagher, Cosworth's General Manager for F1. "We look forward to forging a long-standing relationship, not only for the supply of competitive Formula 1 engines, but also in the joint development of new technologies that have wider application outside of Formula 1."