Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Verstappen takes first practice honours

The Dutch driver goes into Formula One's season-closing race at Yas Marina level on points with Lewis Hamilton, who was third fastest, 0.346sec shy of his arch-rival.

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives at the Yas Marina Circuit during the second free practice session of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix.   -  AFP

Max Verstappen was quick out of the blocks in Abu Dhabi on Friday, planting his Red Bull at the top of first practice timesheets ahead of Sunday's title-deciding Grand Prix.

The Dutch driver goes into Formula One's season-closing race at Yas Marina level on points with Lewis Hamilton, who was third fastest, 0.346sec shy of his arch-rival.

Splitting the pair whose scrap for the 2021 driver's crown has made this a season no one will forget in a hurry was Valtteri Bottas.

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The Finn, in his last run out for Mercedes before moving to Alfa Romeo in 2022, came in at 0.196s.

Completing the top four was Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.

The circuit has undergone a major revamp to improve overtaking opportunities since 2020 when Verstappen ended a six-year domination by Mercedes.

His 1min 25.009s effort was around a dozen seconds quicker than 12 months ago.

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Hamilton approaches Sunday on a four-timer after wins in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and will become world champion for an unprecedented eighth time if he finishes in front of Verstappen.

But the man who wants his crown will take the title should they both fail to score any points on the strength of winning nine races to Hamilton's eight.

Abu Dhabi first practice times

Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda) 1:25.009 (23 laps), Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes) 1:25.205 (27), Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:25.355 (25), Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull-Honda) 1:25.363 (24), Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Honda) 1:25.378 (23), Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault) 1:25.625 (26), Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Honda) 1:25.822 (28), Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:25.846 (20), Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Ferrari) 1:25.886 (26), Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:26.007 (26), Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault) 1:26.025 (25), Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:26.123 (26), Kimi Räikkönen (FIN/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) 1:26.189 (25), Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) 1:26.409 (25), Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:26.608 (26), Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:26.676 (29), Jack Aitken (GBR/Williams-Mercedes) 1:27.481 (27), Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:27.487 (27), Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari) 1:27.698 (24), Nikita Mazepin (RUS/Haas-Ferrari) 1:28.305 (22)

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