Two drivers have started every FIA Formula One Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi from the front row, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, and the rivals led the pack once again during both practice sessions on Friday.
Right out of the gate Hamilton led practice session one (P1) with a 1m43.285s, but in the evening practice session two (P2) the Red Bull of Vettel came alive on the Yas Marina Circuit.
Our car looked good in FP1, but FP2 was a little bit more of a challenge for me.
“I think we can be happy with today," Vettel said. "Overall we got a good lap on the soft tyres, but in general pace the McLaren’s were quick and seem competitive, so they’re the ones we need to look out for and beat. We need to improve the car overnight to qualify as high as we can tomorrow.”
McLaren's Hamilton was just .168s behind Vettel with a 1m41.919s time. Jenson Button rounded out the top three, but was further off the pace with a 1m42.412s time.
“Our car looked good in FP1, but FP2 was a little bit more of a challenge for me. It was quite tricky to get a good time from the Option [tire], so tonight we’ll need to do some work around figuring out how to switch our Options on," Hamilton said. "“We’ll work as hard as we can tonight, as always, and, if we can get ahead of the Red Bulls in qualifying tomorrow, it’ll be a huge bonus for us.”
Red Bull's Mark Webber trailed Button with a 1m42.466s lap time, but the Australian's second practice session was cut short after his car malfunctioned.
“We had a KERS issue, which wasn’t the same as last week. It never helps to miss some running on the track during practice, but it’s not a big deal," Webber said. "We'll fix it tonight and come back tomorrow."
Grosjean, who has not yet been announced as a Lotus driver for 2013, pipped his teammate with a 1m42.5s lap time. Raikkonen, who signed a 2013 contract last week, was three-hundredths behind his young teammate with a lap time of 1m42.532s.
The Ferrari of Fernando Alonso finished seventh and was the last contender within one-second of Vettel with a lap time of 1m42.587s.
Felipe Massa followed his teammate in eighth with a 1m42.823s lap time.
Ferrari arrived at Abu Dhabi with a highly upgraded aero package, and spent much of practice gaining vital telemetry on a single set of medium tires, according to Ferrari.
"It's looking promising, but we need to analyze all the data as normal to decide what we need to run tomorrow," Ferrari's Pat Fry said.
Williams' Pastor Maldonado, 1m42.998s, took ninth and Sauber's Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10 with a 1m43.106s.
"For me it was a good day. We have completed our entire planned programme, so in this respect it was very positive," Perez said. "I am comfortable with the balance of the car and, therefore, I think my position in the second session is pretty much what we are capable of here. This means Q3 is possible.”
Nico Rosberg was 12th with a 1m43.2s, and Michael Schumacher was 14th with a 1m43.267s time. Schumacher seemed to struggle with the set up and his inconsistent pace caused some near incidents with Kamui Kobayashi and Timo Glock.
“Today we saw what I would call a 'normal' Friday - doing certain programmes, changing the set-up and typical data collection work. What we saw at the end of the day is probably where we are, so a pretty realistic picture," Schumacher said. "On a different note, it really is impressive and beautiful to drive here, and to drive from daytime into the night really is special.”