Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2021

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

Pos.No.DriverCarBest lapGapLaps
133Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’25.00922
277Valtteri BottasMercedes1’25.2050.19626
344Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’25.3550.34624
411Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’25.3630.35423
522Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’25.3780.36922
614Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’25.6250.61625
710Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’25.8220.81327
816Charles LeclercFerrari1’25.8460.83719
955Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’25.8860.87725
105Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’26.0070.99825
1131Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’26.0251.01624
124Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’26.1231.11425
137Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’26.1891.18024
1499Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’26.4091.40024
1518Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’26.6081.59925
163Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’26.6761.66728
1789Jack AitkenWilliams-Mercedes1’27.4812.47226
186Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’27.4872.47826
1947Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’27.6982.68923
209Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’28.3053.29621

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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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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31 comments on “Verstappen quickest in first practice as lap times plummet at revised Yas Marina circuit”

  1. Looking like this will be a really strong track for RedBull. Perez,Gasly and even Tsnoda in the top7 is a strong sign. Wonder if that’ll change as we go into the night conditions.

    1. it’s FP1

      1. Thanks for clearing that up pastaman. I had no idea it was FP1 after I sat and watched it live and then commented on an article with the title “Verstappen quickest in free practice one” thank goodness you’re here to help.

        1. His point is, as you appear to have missed it, is you can’t tell anything about their pace from fp1. You won’t be able to tell anything about their true pace until q3

  2. Good job. As lewis engine depreciates itll be a clear advantage for max.

    1. Mercedes’s strategist to calculate the possibility of Lewis winning by taking fresh engine cranked up for rocket speed and lasting for 65 laps only.

      1. That would be another very unsporting thing to do.
        Allowed by the foolish rules but not by the spirit of the rules.
        But penalty’s only apply to max/rbr so Mercedes will try this.

        1. Explain why it’s “unsporting”?

          You come out with these comments, but never back them up. If Merc want to change their engine after every session, so what?

          1. What is ridiculous is the fact that new PUs do not count against the cap.

  3. I wonder if this is the typical Mercedes sandbagging strategy. I expect both (actually all) teams are running old engines; time to start cranking them up to see how fast they can go before detonation, there’s no point in sparing engines at the last race.

    1. Not really sandbagging. Ham had three laps deleted, and two of them made no real difference to lap time. Which would put him within .04 of Max. And on Max’s fastest lap Alonso gave him a tow down the straight, and then aborted his own lap to let Max by.
      So at the moment they seem pretty even, as do Perez and Bottas.

      1. I think they both get a room and get it over with :-)

    2. I would say it is more a typical Friday result. Difference in build up to the quali between the teams. Nothing can be concluded from it

  4. Largely meaningless, as all early sessions are at night-race tracks. But at least it doesn’t *look* like one of the teams will romp away, which is good.

    1. Also, apparently Verstappen had a hug tow from Alonso on his best lap. Meaningless.

    2. @hahostolze At one point I saw that Verstappen was up 0.003 seconds on Hamilton which I thought was a fitting summary to the season :)

  5. The changes have made the track better as it does now have a better flow, However I still think it’s a horrible circuit & still hate that it’s the final round of the season (Especially with the title fight this year) as I still think it lacks the sort of atmosphere that you used to get from venues like Adelaide, Suzuka & Interlagos when they would end the season.

    1. The place is in the middle of no where.
      It all looks fantastic on TV but even the Ferrari world next door is just a glorified shopping mall. Everything goes dead after the race weekend.
      Money can create illusions.

    2. I think we all agree on that @stefmeister. Imagine going to interlagos tied on points, would be an amazing atmosphere. Instead we get this dead place with admittedly nice hotel rooms, but no soul. Nothing we can do about it though, I felt the same way ten years ago with the Alonso Vettel Webber battle.

      1. someone or something
        10th December 2021, 12:51

        I felt the same way ten years ago with the Alonso Vettel Webber battle

        It’s been eleven years, actually.
        For me, the biggest issue with the title decider back then was the fact that there was no battle. Add in an early Safety Car, weird tyres that would basically last the entire race, so the whole point was basically to wait for a cheap pit stop and tick the mandatory change off the list, as well as the fact that the rev-limited V8 engines were terrible for overtaking, as they would constantly bounce off the limiter on the straights (worst engine formula I’ve witnessed in a quarter of a century). Add to that a track layout that is both vast and poorly suited to overtaking, a smooth, aseptic place.
        And then compare that to the rough, bumpy, vibrantly imperfect setting at Interlagos, which has produced two title deciders for the ages in recent-ish years (2008 and 2012).

        That being said, I do appreciate the changes to the layout. It looks a lot more fun to drive now. I’m just not sure if it was a good idea to remove the heavy breaking zone at the end of the second long straight. Anything short of a highway pass with DRS, completed long before the corner entry, is asking for trouble.

  6. Karun Chandhok’s side-by-side doesn’t look good for RB if Merc can set the car up well.

    1. Yes, it certainly looked like there were more potential areas for improvement in the Merc. Very early days though.

      1. And of course red bull is unable to improve further.

  7. Remember it’s practice! Some already making wild inferences about advantage to a specific team.

    Different engines, temperatures and track conditions en route for the race.

    1. Congratulation to Max Verstappen the World Champion 2021!

  8. Go Lewis go

  9. Anyone know the tyres they used to set their times?

    1. Everybody on softs, apart from Ricciardo who set his best time on mediums.

  10. Good start for RB, but we’ve seen that often in the last couple of weeks. They start well and then come Saturday and especially on Sunday the Mercedes holds the advantage.
    I just hope they don’t make the same mistake as in Jeddah by focusing too much on qualifying, rather than setting up their car for the race.
    Hamilton’s last laps on high fuel towards the end of the session looked very good, doing 1:29.3s three laps in a row. Verstappen was slower and not as consistent, lapping between 1:29.5 and 1:30.0.

    Let’s see how they’ll do in FP2, as that should be a more representative session.

  11. I feel like qualifying will be even less relevant year, with three potentially slipstreaming opportunities in the first lap alone. Max just needs to be in the first row, same with Lewis.

  12. Less relevant here*

Comments are closed.