Verstappen quickest in first practice as lap times plummet at revised Yas Marina circuit | 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix first practice

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Max Verstappen set the early pace, almost two tenths faster than the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, in first practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver’s best effort of a 1’25.009 on the new-look circuit was over 10 seconds faster than 2020 pole position time.

It was a clear, warm start to the weekend as the teams and drivers explored the heavily-revised Yas Marina circuit for the first time.

Charles Leclerc was sent out sporting a hefty aero rake appendage to the rear of his Ferrari as the team looked to gather data ahead of next week’s post-season test.

Drivers explored the track limits of the modified layout, with Bottas among those with lap times deleted due to drivers running over the exit of the final corner, which is now approached at higher speeds due to the reprofiled penultimate corner.

Verstappen’s early benchmark, just under two tenths faster than Bottas, stood until the end of the session. The Red Bull driver set a time over 10 seconds faster than his pole position time from last year. That was in spite of an “annoying” problem for the championship-contender driving with his steering wheel off-centred, and several requests for more front wing angle to be added to his RB16B.

With grip levels at likely at their lowest point, there were plenty of mistakes over the hour. Kimi Raikkonen had a harmless spin through the new turn nine, but was able to recover safely. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jnr all ran off the track under braking for turn six at the end of the first long back straight.

Verstappen’s best lap was never bettered, with the Red Bull driver ending the session on top of the times, with Bottas and Hamilton behind and Sergio Perez in fourth, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri.

Williams reserve driver Jack Aitken took part in the session in place of the outgoing George Russell, his first run in an F1 practice session of the 2021 season. The British driver – having recovered from injuries sustained in a horrific crash in the Spa 24 Hours – finished the session in 17th, six thousandths of a second faster than Nicholas Latifi.

After the chequered flag, Sebastian Vettel appeared to inadvertently push Sainz off the circuit heading through turn four, seemingly unaware the Ferrari was alongside him. The Aston Martin driver was seen gesturing an apology to Sainz on replay.

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2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix first practice result

First practice visual gaps

Max Verstappen – 1’25.009

+0.196 Valtteri Bottas – 1’25.205

+0.346 Lewis Hamilton – 1’25.355

+0.354 Sergio Perez – 1’25.363

+0.369 Yuki Tsunoda – 1’25.378

+0.616 Fernando Alonso – 1’25.625

+0.813 Pierre Gasly – 1’25.822

+0.837 Charles Leclerc – 1’25.846

+0.877 Carlos Sainz Jnr – 1’25.886

+0.998 Sebastian Vettel – 1’26.007

+1.016 Esteban Ocon – 1’26.025

+1.114 Lando Norris – 1’26.123

+1.180 Kimi Raikkonen – 1’26.189

+1.400 Antonio Giovinazzi – 1’26.409

+1.599 Lance Stroll – 1’26.608

+1.667 Daniel Ricciardo – 1’26.676

+2.472 Jack Aitken – 1’27.481

+2.478 Nicholas Latifi – 1’27.487

+2.689 Mick Schumacher – 1’27.698

+3.296 Nikita Mazepin – 1’28.305

Drivers more then ten seconds off the pace omitted.

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2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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