Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen set the fastest lap of the opening practice for the final round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as Lewis Hamilton finished fifth on the timesheet as he returned to the cockpit for Mercedes following his recovery from COVID-19.
Hamilton completed his 10-day quarantine in Bahrain and after returning a number of negative tests was free to travel to Abu Dhabi following confirmation from the authorities that he could do so. Mercedes confirmed he returned a further negative test on arrival and thus he is eligible to compete this weekend.
However, despite the champion’s return, it was Verstappen who led the way in the daytime session at Yas Marina Circuit, with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas second and last weekend’s first-time podium finisher Esteban Ocon of Renault third.
Bottas set early pace on soft compound Pirellis but when Verstappen eventually bolted on the red-banded compound after avoiding them early on he took top spot with around half an hour left in the session.
The Red Bull driver logged a best time of 1:37.378s to edge Bottas by just 0.034 seconds. Ocon who finished second at the Bahrain International Circuit last weekend continued his recent run of good form with a time 1.1 seconds off Verstappen’s time.
It was a less successful outing for the Frenchman’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, however. The Australian, who is making his final appearance for Renault before a switch to McLaren in 2021, suffered a fuel pressure problem early on and completed just four laps.
Second Red Bull driver Alex Albon took fourth place on the timesheet but he ended the session 1.169s behind team-mate Verstappen. The Thai driver also suffered a spin Turns 12/13 in an otherwise error-free session.
Hamilton took fifth spot with his best time coming on hard compound tires. In all, he completed 20 laps on his return to duty for Mercedes.
Racing Point drivers Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez finished sixth and seventh respectively ahead of the AlphaTauri pair of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly, while Kimi Raikkonen completed the top 10 for Alfa Romeo.
Elsewhere, Mick Schumacher made his grand prix weekend debut with his 2021 team Haas. The FIA Formula 2 champion finished 18th with a best of 1:41.235, which put him almost 3 second clear of team-mate Pietro Fittipaldi who is again standing in for the injured Romain Grosjean this weekend.
2020 FIA Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 1:37.378 26 205.327
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:37.412 0.034 32 205.256
3 Esteban Ocon Renault 1:38.515 1.137 34 202.957
4 Alexander Albon Red Bull/Honda 1:38.547 1.169 25 202.892
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.744 1.366 24 202.487
6 Lance Stroll Racing Point/Mercedes 1:38.831 1.453 25 202.308
7 Sergio Pérez Racing Point/Mercedes 1:38.956 1.578 25 202.053
8 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri/Honda 1:39.150 1.772 27 201.658
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 1:39.160 1.782 30 201.637
10 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:39.199 1.821 22 201.558
11 Carlos Sainz McLaren/Renault 1:39.330 1.952 27 201.292
12 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:39.344 1.966 25 201.264
13 Lando Norris McLaren/Renault 1:39.352 1.974 28 201.248
14 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:39.670 2.292 19 200.605
15 Robert Kubica Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:39.905 2.527 19 200.134
16 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 1:40.446 3.068 24 199.056
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 1:41.063 3.685 27 197.840
18 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 1:41.235 3.857 23 197.504
19 Pietro Fittipaldi Haas/Ferrari 1:44.069 6.691 24 192.126
20 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 3