F1 – Verstappen quickest ahead of Mercedes drivers in first practice for season showdown in Abu Dhabi  | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile
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F1 – Verstappen quickest ahead of Mercedes drivers in first practice for season showdown in Abu Dhabi 

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen beat Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to the top of the timesheet in the opening practice session for Formula 1’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

Verstappen outpaced Bottas by almost two tenths of a second with Hamilton opening his weekend on the heavily reprofiled Yas Marina circuit by finishing more than three tenths of a second off the pace of his championship rival in the opening exchanges of this title-deciding event. 

Versatappen set the early pace in the session, despite complaining to his team that he was struggling with a steering wheel that was badly “right-hand down”. Even so, the Dutchman eclipsed Hamilton by two tenths of second in the opening runs. 

Hamilton then improved to close to within a tenth but the Red Bull driver widened the gap once more with his next run, posting a time of 1:25.009.

The Mercedes driver went for another flying lap and this time he almost matched the Dutchman but his lap, just 0.033 off the Red Bull driver, was quickly deleted for exceeding track limits at the final corner.

The deletion left the door open for Bottas to edge past his Mercedes team-mate to claim P2. The Finn, competing in his final race weekend for Mercedes before a move to Alfa Romeo next year, ended the session 0.196s behind Verstappen.

Sergio Perez was fourth for Red Bull just 0.008 behind Hamilton, while Yuki Tsunoda made an impressive start to the weekend with fifth place for AlphaTauri. The Japanese driver continued his good form of recent weekends by beating team-mate Pierre Gasly by almost half a second. 

The French driver finished the session in seventh place, behind Alpine’s Fernando Alonso. Charles Leclerc finished eighth for Ferrari ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz and the top 10 was rounded out by Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.

Elsewhere, Jack Aitken made his first practice session appearance of the season deputising for George Russell. Aitken finished 17th, six thousandths of a second clear of Nicholas Latifi.

2021 FIA Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 1:25.009 23 223.642
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:25.205 0.196 27 223.127
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.355 0.346 25 222.735
4 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda 1:25.363 0.354 24 222.714
5 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 1:25.378 0.369 23 222.675
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 1:25.625 0.616 26 222.033
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 1:25.822 0.813 28 221.523
8 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:25.846 0.837 20 221.461
9 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:25.886 0.877 26 221.358
10 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:26.007 0.998 26 221.047
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 1:26.025 1.016 25 221.000
12 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 1:26.123 1.114 26 220.749
13 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:26.189 1.180 25 220.580
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:26.409 1.400 25 220.018
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:26.608 1.599 26 219.513
16 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 1:26.676 1.667 29 219.340
17 Jack Aitken Williams/Mercedes 1:27.481 2.472 27 217.322
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 1:27.487 2.478 27 217.307
19 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 1:27.698 2.689 24 216.784
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 1:28.305 3.296 22 215.294