Lewis Hamilton headed both of today’s free practices ahead of the 2014 Formula One finale in Abu Dhabi, while Nico Rosberg topped Saturday’s session.
The Briton led his Mercedes teammate and title challenger Rosberg in both sessions, with Hamilton securing the peak with a 1:43.476s (FP1) and a 1:42.113s (FP2), although Rosberg fought back come the third session (1:41.424s).
During what was a standard and reasonably uneventful series of sessions for the Brackley team, during which they displayed significantly kind tyre preservation, Hamilton took to the front of FP1 with a half-hour remaining in FP1 and then doing the same with one hour left in FP2.
Rosberg made the most of the final session, which is often geared toward qualifying set-ups; however a slide during Hamilton’s final run means we will never know if the points leader could have overhauled his rival.
Of Friday, Hamilton said, “We’ve run the same programme as we run every race weekend but this time we had the whole of both sessions to work with the tyres, look at long runs, analyse setup and the countless other things you need to assess in practice which was great.”
On what is generally a low wear circuit, the Pirelli tyres held up under scrutiny, despite the temperature rising as the afternoon wore on.
Indeed, Hamilton was able to find performance for three-to-four laps in the Pirelli supersoft tyre – a tyre that was initially thought to only have one lap’s worth of life.
Despite this, the Briton believes there is still more to come. “We made good steps forward with the setup but, as always, there is still more time to be found. We’ll keep chipping away at it and look to improve in every area possible but the car feels great – the best I’ve ever driven here without doubt.”
Realistically Hamilton only needs to finish 2nd in Sunday’s race to claim the title, but the Mercedes man is keen to take the race by the scruff of the neck. “I’ll just drive the way I always drive and what will be, will be. So far it’s all moving in the right direction so I just have to keep working away at it.”
On the other side of the Mercedes garage, Rosberg was not prepared to consign his title run to history yet, although the German did concede that his opening practice day had been less than perfect. “It’s been a good day today but I really haven’t got my best lap together yet,” noted Rosberg, while adding, “There is still a lot of work to do over the rest of the weekend. In general the car felt great out there today. I just need to fine-tune it so that the set-up is exactly to my liking, then go for it and get the job done.”
The prospect of an interloper splitting the Mercedes battle took a significant dent during both of today’s sessions. Indeed, the closest anyone got to the silver machines was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (FP1) and Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) in FP2; however they were 1.71s and 0.78s adrift respectively.
For the Spaniard, he set his best on new tyres, while the Silver Arrows took theirs on used Pirelli rubber and while the gaps will conceivably close as the circuit continues to come to life, the chance of a non-Mercedes runner getting in between the contenders is incredibly slim.
Indeed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo said it best when he commented, “Mercedes are … yeah I won’t even mention them! But anyway, they’re fighting for the title so we’ll let them go, but as for the rest it looks pretty tight as always for third place…”