Verstappen regains confidence and poise for top Abu Dhabi training

Verstappen topped the times in second practice © AFP/Ben Stansall

Abu Dhabi (AFP), November 18 – Max Verstappen regained his confidence and composure on Friday when he topped Red Bull’s times ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell in the opening practice of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The two-time world champion showed no reaction to recent events after ignoring team orders in Brazil, where Russell picked up his first win, then launched an angry attack on the media and social media on Thursday.

“I’m really happy with how this session went. Of course we will always try to refine things overnight, but we have to be competitive in qualifying,” he said.

Verstappen, who is aiming for a record 15th win in a single season, clocked a best lap of one minute and 25.146 seconds to edge Russell by more than three-tenths of a second.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished third, ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes, Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull and Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari.

All of which suggests that the top three teams will be locked in close competition at Sunday’s season-ending race at Yas Marina Circuit.

Russell, in high spirits after his Sao Paulo win, said he thinks Mercedes are falling ‘a bit behind’ Red Bull on pure pace after the ‘Silver Arrows’ spent much of Friday testing new parts for 2023.

“We had a really good day in terms of what we learned,” he said.

“We have done quite a bit of test items in FP1 in preparation for next year and this is one of our last test opportunities.

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“In FP2 the track temperature was obviously cooler and that changed the conditions completely, but it was fast there. forward and in the long term perhaps even further.

Hamilton felt more optimistic.

“It was pretty good in the first session, but in FP2 the balance was a bit off balance,” he said.

“I made a few changes between sessions and they weren’t the right ones so it was a bit difficult with the oversteer and that was my limit.

“The Red Bulls were a bit quicker, but that was expected because it’s not our best run.

– Roller coaster season –

“So we’re going to work hard overnight and we’ll be there and hopefully we can fight.”

Leclerc said he was a little disappointed with his lack of pace, adding that Ferrari needed to improve overnight on the set-up if he was to be competitive.

“It was a clean Friday, at least, which we haven’t had for a long time, so that’s good. On the other hand, we seemed to miss a bit of rhythm, especially on the race runs,” he said.

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Ninth on the timesheet was Daniel Ricciardo on his final weekend with McLaren.

After a rollercoaster season in which his contract was cut, Ricciardo found himself sliding on a slippery new asphalt surface in his McLaren pit before his final race with the team.

Earlier, influential Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko told Sky Sports Germany that the Australian driver was set to return to Red Bull next year as a third driver, ending speculation linking him at Mercedes.

The revelation that Ricciardo was linked to Red Bull in 2023 was interpreted by many paddock watchers as a signal that Mercedes were set to offer Mick Schumacher a similar reserve and test role in 2023, following his release by Haas.

In early practice earlier, Hamilton, returning to the scene of his acrimonious and controversial loss to Verstappen in last year’s decisive title race, led from Russell.

Verstappen’s route in the morning was taken by Liam Lawson.

It was a convincing performance from the young New Zealander in his first race in a Red Bull for his third FP1 appearance of the season.

Eight regular drivers gave way to ambitious reserves for the session.

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