Dubai: The floodlit Yas Marina track was getting hotter by the minute despite the dip in temperatures as Formula One drivers stepped up the pace in the second free practice session at the Etihad Airways F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday.
Newly crowned world champion Max Verstappen topped the time sheet in the evening session after seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton took the top spot in the morning session for the season-ending race on the 5.554km circuit.
Brazilian Grand Prix winner George Russell of Mercedes finished 0.341 seconds behind the Dutchman, while Charles Leclerc in Ferrari separated the Mercedes duo, with Hamilton finishing fourth. The Ferrari driver, who complained that the “pace is not great at the moment” midway through the evening session, managed to stay ahead of his closest rival Sergio Perez in the time charts on both occasions. Carlos Sainz finished sixth to complete a total domination by Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari.
Ahead of his final career F1 race, Sebastian Vettel could not repeat his morning form and finished out of the top 10 in the second session under the lights.
Vettel won four titles in Abu Dhabi between 2010 and 2013, during which he and his Red Bull Racing team dominated. With 53 race victories and 57 pole positions, Vettel is third in the top 10 F1 drivers in terms of victories, behind Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.
Vettel loves the Yas Marina Circuit, winning in 2009 and 2010. His third and final win in 2013 was the most impressive: leading every lap and taking the chequered flag by 30 seconds. It equalled the longest run of victories in F1 history of seven wins set by Schumacher. Vettel would surpass that record with nine consecutive wins and end the season with 13.
Despite the unfulfilled promise of his Ferrari years and the two-year stint at an under-performing Aston Martin, the German driver’s record at Yas Marina Circuit of seven podiums, including three victories, makes him one of the most successful drivers in the Circuit’s history.
“The decision has been a difficult one for me to take, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about it,” Vettel said, explaining the reasons behind his retirement. “At the end of the year, I want to take some more time to reflect on what I will focus on next; it is very clear to me that, being a father, I want to spend more time with my family.
“But today is not about saying goodbye. Rather, it is about saying thank you – to everyone – not least the fans, without whose passionate support Formula 1 could not exist.”