Red Bull’s Max Verstappen led the way in the first practice session in the Formula 1 championship showdown at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
He was 0.196 seconds quicker than Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, while Verstappen’s title rival Lewis Hamilton was third, 0.346secs off the pace.
Hamilton had a quicker lap – just 0.033secs off Verstappen’s pace – deleted for exceeding track limits.
The two are tied on points heading into a winner-takes-all finale on Sunday.
Whoever finishes ahead in the grand prix will be champion. If neither finish, Verstappen will take the title on the basis of having one more win.
The first practice session at Abu Dhabi is notoriously unrepresentative because it is held in daylight in mid-afternoon, while qualifying and the race start at twilight and run into night time, when track temperatures are cooler.
Verstappen was ahead from his first lap and looked comfortable around the remodelled Yas Marina circuit, which has been speeded up in the hope of improving the quality of the action on a track that has a reputation for producing boring races.
The build-up to the weekend has been dominated by the fall-out from last weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, in which Verstappen and Hamilton engaged in their most ill-tempered duel of the season, with Verstappen was penalised by officials three times for different incidents.
He has arrived in Abu Dhabi claiming that he is being treated differently by officials.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was fourth fastest, ahead of Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.
Kimi Raikkonen, in the final race of his illustrious career, had a spin at Turn Nine and Vettel also lost control towards the end of the session at Turn 15, the second last corner, after hitting the inside kerb on the apex.
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