Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team during the first practice session. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Aston Martin Red Bull Racing signalled their rise to challenge five-time world champions Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport and Scuderia Ferrari during Friday’s practice sessions for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

With defending Abu Dhabi champion Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes topping the second Formula 1 free practice session that witnessed a couple of yellow flag situations, it was the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo clocking their way in the next two slots even as world champion Lewis Hamilton came in fourth with Mercedes.

Winless so far this season, Bottas had the best lap of 1 minute, 37.236 seconds on a considerably cooler surface in the second practice later in the evening as the Red Bull pair followed 0.052 and 0.207 seconds behind the Mercedes.

Hamilton, winner of the last race in Brazil after capping a fifth world crown in Mexico last month, tried his best for a quick lap but had to settle for a 1:37.443.

'We all know what to expect'

“It was just a normal Friday for me out there,” Kimi Raikkonen told media after the late evening practice.

“There were so many cars who have been running close to each other, especially among the top. The actual race action will be tomorrow [Saturday]," the Finn added.

Former world champion Sebastian Vettel, who started off well only to encounter reliability issues later in the season, was more pragmatic. “Too early to read into things at the moment. We all know what to expect,” the German said.

“I think everything went as per plan for us, but right now we need to see how best we can improve and start being there among the top,” Vettel added.

The Red Bulls have had a fluctuating season at best with Ricciardo winning twice — Race 3 in China and Race 6 in Monza — to be sixth overall with 158 points. His teammate Verstappen, however, is in the running for an overall podium as he lies in fifth with 234 points — behind Raikkonen (251 points) and Bottas (237) — after winning in Austria and Mexico.

Earlier in the first official practice in the afternoon, it was the two Red Bulls showing their superiority led by Verstappen — denied of a certain third win for this season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Verstappen had the best lap between the two Red Bull cars with a 1:38.491 while teammate Ricciardo followed nearly half a second away with a 1:38.945.

Bottas took over from teammate Hamilton with a third-best 1:39.452, while the latter came in fourth with 1:

39.543. The two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were pushed down to seventh and eighth with Racing Point Force India’s Esteban Ocon coming in fifth (1:40.102), followed by Haas F1 Team’s Kevin Magnussen a further 1.744 seconds off the leader.

The cars will go out for one last practice session on Saturday between 2 and 3pm, followed by the qualifying session from 5-6 pm.