F1 title battle balanced on knife edge after closely-fought practice
This year's already action-packed season of racing is set to end on another high note if the form shown by teams in Friday's practice sessions in Abu Dhabi is anything to go by, with title protanogists Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren all performing strongly on the opening day of track action for the season finale. There was just four tenths of a second separating the four title-challenging drivers, with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton leading the way on a time of 1m40.888s.
It was dry and warm throughout the second session this evening, as teams took the track for the second practice session of the day, with Hamilton's session-topping laptime coming on the hour mark before teams settled down to concentrate on race set-up work. The Briton's time was almost two seconds quicker than Vettel's quickest this morning, as track conditions improved and drivers continued to familiaris themselves with the circuit.
Hamilton lapped a quarter of a second quicker than Brazilian GP winner Sebastian Vettel (1m41.145s), while the top two in the drivers' championship coming into this weekend were separated by just one thousandth of a second, with Fernando Alonso third on a 1m41.314s and Mark Webber fourth on a 1m41.315s.
Best of the rest was Renault's Robert Kubica (1m41.576s) who lapped less than one hundredth quicker than Felipe Massa (1m41.583s), with the pressure once again on the Brazilian to perform strongly and help team-mate Alonso tot the title. The field was particularly close in the upper midfield, with drivers from seventh to 11th separated by just one and a half tenths. The group was led by Vitaly Petrov (1m42.096s), followed by Jenson Button (1m42.132s), Vitantonio Liuzzi (1m42.203s), Nico Rosberg (1m42.222s) and Michael Schumacher (1m42.246s).
Elsewhere outside the top ten, Williams, BMW Sauber and Toro Rosso will all need to improve their pace for Saturday and Sunday if they hope to end the season with a point-scoring race, while the battle of the new teams was once again led by Lotus, as they look to cement their status as the best new team this season. Heikki Kovalainen was over four seconds off the lead pace on a time of 1m45.180s, but was still quick ebough to beat Virgin's Timo Glock by just under a tenth. Jarno Trulli was over four tenths quicker than Lucas di Grassi, with this weekend potentially being the last Grand Prix for both. HRT were a further 1.2 seconds adrift, with Klien lapping two tenths quicker than Senna.
The session passed without any major incident, as drivers kept their cars on-track for the most part. A handful of drivers ventured onto the generous run-off areas around the circuit, while Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari spun at turn 19 at one point, but all drivers escaped damaging their cars.