The first day/night session of 2013 saw Sebastian Vettel reclaim the P1 position he held in each session of last week’s Indian Grand Prix. The Red Bull Racing driver finished FP2 with a best time of 1:41.335, one-and-a-half tenths clear of team-mate Mark Webber. Behind them, Lewis Hamilton slotted into third place for Mercedes, narrowly ahead of 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix winner, Kimi Räikkönen of Lotus.
Nico Rosberg was fifth in the second Mercedes, with the McLaren pair of Sergio Pérez and Jenson Button sixth and seventh respectively. Fernando Alonso was eighth and Felipe Massa tenth, the Ferrari pair bracketing the Sauber of Nico Hülkenberg.
The session had no preamble of installation laps, Räikkönen heading straight out on track for a timed run as soon as the light turned green. His first effort on the medium tyre was six-tenths quicker that he had managed earlier in the day. That trend was repeated throughout the opening exchanges, as the combination of lower temperatures and more rubber on the circuit coaxed laps faster than the best of the afternoon out of the prime rubber. Button and then Pérez each held the lead before Vettel rose to the top after 15 minutes.
His was to be the final benchmark on the primes, with option tyres appearing soon after. With 70 minutes of the session remaining, Räikkönen was the first driver to sample the yellow-banded soft tyres. He instantly went two seconds faster than his earlier best lap and reset P1 at 1:41.888. Then, proving the soft tyre is good for more than one fast lap, the Finn improved, recording a time of 1:41.726.
With the floodlighting starting to take over from natural light, Hamilton and then Webber rose to the top before Vettel arrived and, 42 minutes into the session, took P1 with 1:41.434. He too would improve slightly on his next lap, setting his ultimate time of 1:41.335 at the halfway point.
That was the end of the search for outright speed, with the field spending the second 45 minutes concentrating on long runs. The soft tyre appears much more durable at Yas than it was in India, with graining rather than extreme wear characterising the conversations between drivers and engineers, many cars putting over 20 laps onto a set of options.
While the session had no outright drama, there was a spin for Giedo van der Garde, while early afternoon pacesetter Romain Grosjean suffered unspecified technical trouble that kept him in the garage for 25 minutes and then caused him to end his session early.