Max Verstappen topped the times ahead of Valtteri Bottas in Friday’s opening free practice at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Dutchman clocked a best lap in 1min 37.378sec in his Red Bull to outpace the Finn, in his Mercedes, by 0.034 seconds, while seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was fifth on his return from his Covid-19-inflicted absence.
Esteban Ocon was third for Renault, 1.1 seconds off the pace, ahead of Alex Albon in the second Red Bull, Hamilton and the two Racing Points of Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez, fresh from his maiden win in last weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
Daniil Kvyat was eighth ahead of Alpha Tauri team-mate Pierre Gasly and Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo.
The session ran in perfect weather conditions with a blue sky, warm sunshine and an air temperature of 25 degrees. The track was 39 degrees and the teams were set to use the softest range of tyres available from Pirelli on the smooth Yas Marina circuit.
Hamilton’s return for Mercedes, preceded by his arrival at the paddock in an eye-catching ‘zebra’ suit, meant George Russell returned to Williams, but it was Mick Schumacher’s appearance in FP1 for Haas that attracted attention too along with Robert Kubica’s possible swansong run for Alfa Romeo.
On a weekend of farewells, Vettel’s departure from Ferrari topped the list after his self-declared ‘failure’ with the Italians, having aimed to claim another title with them in his six-year stay.
His friend and rival Hamilton was quick to join the early fray for some ‘welcome back’ laps, but brake problems soon had him called back to the pits as Bottas went took the early initiative.
Ricciardo was also halted, after only 23 minutes, when he came to a halt on the back straight. His stranded Renault was rescued under Virtual Safety Car (VSC) conditions before Verstappen went quickest only for Bottas to respond with a determined lap.
After repairs, Hamilton returned to action and shared a waved greeting with team-mate Bottas on the straight as he worked with the ‘hard’ compound tyres.
Verstappen rose again to top the times ahead of Bottas, but in a session run in daylight sunshine, it was of little use as an indicator of what lies ahead in the twilight zone, when qualifying and the race take place.