McLaren got the penultimate Grand Prix of the season off to a perfect start by topping the opening pair of sessions in Abu Dhabi.
Jenson Button claimed the morning honours ahead of Mark Webber (Red Bull), while Lewis Hamilton crept to the top of the afternoon standings.
Indeed, it was something of a busy morning at the Yas Marina circuit. Amidst a number of off-track excursions, Button set a quickest lap of 1:40.263, edging out Webber by just over a tenth, although the Australian may lay claim to having his quickest lap ruined by a waved yellow flag late on.
Hamilton made it two Mercedes-powered machines in the top three, just ahead of Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull).
The top two teams had a far more profitable morning than Ferrari, whose pair of starts – Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa – suffered several spins in snappy and poorly balanced machines.
Despite this, the red duo still claimed 5th and 6th, ahead of a pair of Force India’s (Adrian Sutil, 7th; Paul di Resta, 9th), while Nico Rosberg celebrated his new contract with Mercedes by setting the 8th best lap.
Jaime Alguersuari closed the top ten in his Toro Rosso, just two-tenths ahead of the team’s reserve driver, Jean-Eric Vergne.
Opening practice also saw two other reserve pilots hit the track. Both Romain Grosjean (Renault) and Robert Wickens (Virgin) took to the track, securing 12th and 23rd respectively.
Wicken’s Virgin teammate, Timo Glock, finished the session with half-second advantage over the Canadian, but did himself no favours with a spin as the chequered flag appeared.
It was a tough start for both Williams and Sauber. At the former squad, Pastor Maldonado lost a little time due to a cracked front wing, while Rubens Barrichello lost nearly the entire session after his engine failed spectacularly.
A drive train issue for Kamui Kobayashi made sure his Sauber had limited morning running.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m40.263s 21 2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m40.389s + 0.126 26 3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m40.403s + 0.140 27 4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m40.755s + 0.492 27 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m40.801s + 0.538 25 6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m41.260s + 0.997 17 7. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m41.340s + 1.077 23 8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m42.130s + 1.867 26 9. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m42.151s + 1.888 28 10. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m42.377s + 2.114 26 11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m42.633s + 2.370 26 12. Romain Grosjean Renault 1m42.685s + 2.422 29 13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m43.118s + 2.855 13 14. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m43.255s + 2.992 29 15. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m43.389s + 3.126 24 16. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.412s + 4.149 28 17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.484s + 4.221 18 18. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m44.565s + 4.302 27 19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m44.898s + 4.635 25 20. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m46.385s + 6.122 28 21. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m46.532s + 6.269 27 22. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m48.024s + 7.761 20 23. Robert Wickens Virgin-Cosworth 1m48.551s + 8.288 23 24. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 3
Hamilton headed Button at the top end of the timing sheets in the second practice. The 2008 Champion clocked thirty-one laps of the Yas Marina track – one more than his champion teammate.
The McLaren pairing enjoyed a far quieter session than either Ferrari or Red Bull. Whereas Massa continued to suffer from balance difficulties, Alonso lost control of his Scuderia machine completely at the opening corner, hitting the soft barrier enough to damage his suspension.
Vettel suffered a similar incident only moments beforehand, although with far less damage. The Red Bull man also dropped his RB7 onto the gripless kerbs entering the first turn, sending his Adrian Newey designed machine spiralling toward the barrier for light contact.
Webber also suffered a soft spin under the hotel of flashing lights.
Schumacher headed a group of Mercedes-powered machinery in 7th. The veteran’s best was a clear four-tenths quicker than the Force India’s, led by Sutil; although rookie di Resta lost session time due to fuel line problems.
Rosberg ended the afternoon in 20th after running forty-one laps.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m39.586s 31 2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m39.785s + 0.199 30 3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m39.971s + 0.385 20 4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m39.980s + 0.394 34 5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m40.104s + 0.518 35 6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m40.132s + 0.546 26 7. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m40.553s + 0.967 34 8. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m40.951s + 1.365 34 9. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m41.021s + 1.435 37 10. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.490s + 1.904 34 11. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.565s + 1.979 34 12. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.680s + 2.094 33 13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m41.947s + 2.361 31 14. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.983s + 2.397 34 15. Bruno Senna Renault 1m42.369s + 2.783 36 16. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m42.798s + 3.212 35 17. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m42.910s + 3.324 34 18. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m43.562s + 3.976 36 19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m44.050s + 4.464 38 20. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m44.265s + 4.679 41 21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m45.486s + 5.900 34 22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m46.142s + 6.556 32 23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m46.249s + 6.663 21 24. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m46.328s + 6.742 34