By Abhishek Takle
ABUDHABI (Reuters) – Valtteri Bottas lapped fastest for Mercedes in first practice for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Friday while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel spun and hit the barriers to end the session.
The Finn lapped the Yas Marina track in one minute 36.957 seconds with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, winner of the last race in Brazil, 0.535 seconds slower.
Vettel, who delayed his arrival in Abu Dhabi due to the birth of his third child, ended up fifth despite sliding into the barriers and bringing out the red flags with two minutes remaining.
The German, who collided with team mate Charles Leclerc in Brazil, made a thumbs up gesture to marshals to show he was fine.
Bottas’s team mate Lewis Hamilton, who appeared to be struck by engine niggles and complained of being stuck in ‘limp home mode’, was third and 0.634 seconds off the pace.
The Briton, who has already secured his sixth title and is chasing a record-extending fifth win in Abu Dhabi, briefly swapped his preferred race number 44 for the world champion’s number 1 on the nose of his car.
Despite the margin, Bottas’s pace was academic with the 30-year-old set to start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid due to engine-related penalties.
The daylight session was largely unrepresentative, with Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race starting at dusk and ending at night under the floodlights.
Red Bull’s Alexander Albon was fourth, with Romain Grosjean sixth for Haas ahead of Leclerc and Kevin Magnussen in the other Haas, with Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi ninth.
Nico Hulkenberg, preparing for his last race with Renault, rounded out the top 10.
Before Vettel ended the session, Friday’s opening 90 minutes were relatively uneventful.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo brought out the red flags for the first time with half an hour to run, with his Renault coughing out oil and fire which forced him to park up by the side of the track.
Renault said the engine failure was of no concern.
“It was a very high mileage engine from the start of season destined for this Friday only. Due to be retired after this session. No penalty for tomorrow as was due to be changed,” the team said.
Pierre Gasly, running behind Ricciardo in his Toro Rosso, caught a visor-full of fluid from the expiring Renault.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin/Christian Radnedge)