McLaren on top in first practice at Abu Dhabi

2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix first practice

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McLaren set the pace around the Yas Marina circuit as practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix began.

Lewis Hamilton ended the first session three-quarters of a second faster than the next driver in a different car. Jenson Button moved within a third of a second of his team mate’s time with his final effort.

The session got off to a very quiet start with Max Chilton and Ma Qing Hua doing a few slow laps as they tested engine settings. Jean-Eric Vergne was the only other driver to set a time in the first half-hour.

The Williams pair were next to lead the times but once Hamilton hit the top he was never headed. He repeatedly improved his effort, ending up on a 1’43.285.

However his time was over three seconds off the best time seen in first practice last year. A series of higher kerbs have been installed at several corners on the track since then, and the session was saw track temperatures of up to 47C.

Sebastian Vettel was third-quickest ahead of championship rival Fernando Alonso, who split the two Red Bulls.

Michael Schumacher was sixth after a couple of off-track moments, including one which came after he briefly held up Timo Glock’s Marussia.

The Williams pair of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas both featured in the top ten with Kimi Raikkonen tenth for Lotus.

Chilton was at the wheel of the second Marussia as he made his first appearance in an official F1 session. He ended up 22nd ahead of Ma Qing Hua, who returned for HRT, and Giedo van der Garde, who did not set a time after reporting an unusual noise on his car during his first run.

Pos.No.DriverCarBest lapGapLaps
14Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes1’43.28521
23Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes1’43.6180.33319
31Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault1’44.0500.76523
45Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’44.3661.08121
52Mark WebberRed Bull-Renault1’44.5421.25722
67Michael SchumacherMercedes1’44.6941.40923
718Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault1’45.1151.83026
88Nico RosbergMercedes1’45.1941.90919
919Valtteri BottasWilliams-Renault1’45.3472.06225
109Kimi RaikkonenLotus-Renault1’45.4222.13715
116Felipe MassaFerrari1’45.5672.28224
1212Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes1’45.5872.30220
1314Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari1’45.7222.43720
1410Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault1’45.7432.45820
1511Jules BianchiForce India-Mercedes1’45.7692.48422
1615Sergio PerezSauber-Ferrari1’45.8112.52622
1716Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso-Ferrari1’46.6493.36424
1817Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso-Ferrari1’46.7083.42326
1920Heikki KovalainenCaterham-Renault1’47.4184.13323
2024Timo GlockMarussia-Cosworth1’47.8914.60621
2122Pedro de la RosaHRT-Cosworth1’48.3545.06922
2225Max ChiltonMarussia-Cosworth1’48.8875.60222
2323Ma Qing HuaHRT-Cosworth1’50.4877.20220
2421Giedo van der GardeCaterham-RenaultNo time7.2023

2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Image © McLaren/Hoch Zwei

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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29 comments on “McLaren on top in first practice at Abu Dhabi”

  1. An unexpectedly promising beginning to the race weekend, hopefully Jenson and Lewis manage to take the bulls by the horns on Saturday & Sunday as well. That might give Alonso a chance to attack Vettel as the latter is not so strong when unable to fly away at the front.

    1. I don’t think it’s really unexpected, McLaren have always gone exceptionally well around Abu Dhabi, not sure if it’s their particularly that it suits Hamilton’s driving style relatively well & the last time that they fought Red Bull hard was Singapore, minus the two long straights, Yas Marina is the ‘Arabian Monaco’ that examines how technically good a car is at changing direction efficiently & rapidly as well as the drivers’ reaction time, particularly in S3. Given these performances alone, perhaps it confirms the MP4-27 is predominantly stronger in low-medium speed circuits than high-speed circuits, although the latter is not necessarily a weakness.

      Only FP1 but still something reasonable to point out.

      1. @younger-hamii I agree with that. McLarens take roughly 0.5-0.5 secs off of Red Bull in S2 and S3. S2 is arguably decided by top speed, whereas S3 is all about good traction under braking and good mechanical grip in low speed corners through kerbs. Both seem to play onto the hands of the McLarens.

        1. I’m guessing because the track surface is so smooth here, the stiffer suspension doesn’t give the same traction/braking issues as with the more bumpy venues.

  2. Raikkonen’s session was cut short because of a puncture 15 mins or so from the end (Lotus tweeted that)

  3. Bob (@bobthevulcan)
    2nd November 2012, 10:52

    Either Red Bull are sandbagging, or McLaren have emerged as the outside player in determining the driver’s championship. Too early to call anything, I think.

    1. if the macca guys take the big points though, Fernando’s chances are even worse.

      1. if the Macca guys can lock the front or at least one of them take pole then Vettel would have to “RACE” & then we will see how long his car can resist

        1. Why would he need to? All he has to do is finish in front of Alonso. There are only two other drivers who can potentially still become WDC, Raikkonen and Webber. And to be honest, neither of them stand a realistic chance as they would have to win each race, and both Alonso and Vettel would have to DNF each race.

          It’s great for McLaren to show some early pace (although, it is still free practice), but they don’t really matter anymore in the championship (yes, in theory, again, hardly a realistic, they can still win the WCC).

          1. Bob (@bobthevulcan)
            2nd November 2012, 11:37

            They do matter. They can’t win anything themselves, but McLaren’s performance could affect Vettel and Alonso’s respective results, thus shifting the balance of the drivers’ title battle.

    2. Or it’ll be just like last year, when it looked like McLaren had the pace all weekend, then Vettel got pole at the very end anyway. (Sorry, I’ve become a pessimist this late in the season.)

      1. Bob (@bobthevulcan)
        2nd November 2012, 11:19

        I suspect it’ll end up that way. It’s not pessimistic, but realistic.

      2. That pessimism is infectious – I’m coming down with it as well.

        By the way, aren’t RBR/VET on their last engine allocation? What’s the implication of that? Could there be a ray of hope, or am I dreaming.

        1. You’re pretty sad if you’re hoping for misfortune to happen to others…

          1. @mnmracer
            No need for that is there?
            Everyone wants a close championship battle and at the moment that only looks like happening if Seb gets a bit of misfortune.

      3. Best to keep pessimistic and be surprised by any different results!

    3. @bobthevulcan It could just be that those two huge straights aren’t playing in to the RB8’s hands, which is no surprise.

      1. Bob (@bobthevulcan)
        2nd November 2012, 16:16

        @andrewtanner – Yet the DDRS system seems to have remedied this straight line speed weakness. In India, the Red Bulls weren’t hampered by the long back straight. Which is why, looking at in now, Vettel is on top for FP2.

        1. @mnmracer

          You’re pretty sad if you’re hoping for misfortune to happen to others…

          Well, most of us want a close championship. Since Red Bull have gifted Vettel a car that is a class of the field and clearly ahead of the pack since Japan, the only way we can have an exciting season finale now is via a misfortune from Vettel. I didn’t hear you complaining when countless people were wishing Alonso a misfortune during the 40-point lead he enjoyed after Hungary.

          Then again, it’s only because Red Bull have a car that since Suzuka has clearly been the best on the grid. If Alonso and Vettel had equal cars, I wouldn’t need or care to wish Vettel bad luck since I’d know Alonso would beat him on merit alone. ;)

        2. @bobthevulcan That will be playing a part but I really doubt they’re gonna be anywhere near the top of the speedtrap still. They’re quick enough in the corners to not have to be though I guess.

  4. Wouldn’t be surprised if things turned around when the sun sets. The outcome of this session is meaningless.

  5. Wouldn’t be surprised if Ferrari were sandbagging as well, or at least taking it easier. Practice 3 is usually when we can decide who is on top anyway

  6. On the subject of the slower lap times, Nico Hulkenberg said this on team radio halfway through the session: “The grip level seems very, very low for some reason this year. Just very loose overall. Feels like there’s no downforce.”

    1. The track will only be similar to qualifying and race conditions in Free Practice 2. FP1 and FP3 are totally different; we will only see the true story in FP2.

  7. where is the promised progress from Caterham? The team brought new front wing, new rear wing, new sidepods, new floor, new exhaust system. Where is the gain?
    maybe, it’s only FP1 and we will see more, but at the moment it looks grim

  8. Bottas, two tenths behind Maldonado. Just saying…

    1. He is quick, but its only practice.

  9. so Mclaren came back. Abu Dhabi requires similar characteristics to Singapore so it might be right what Sam Michael said. Anyway, this would be Alonso’s second favorite situation. If Mclarens block Vettel at first corner and Alonso is behind him…

  10. Chilton had a smaller gap to Glock than Ma did to De La Rosa but both were at least 1s off the other cars pace.

    I’d say that’s a better effort from Chilton considering this is his first time in an official F1 session.

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