Abu Dhabi F1: Leclerc emerges on top after crashes cause havoc in second practice

Sainz and Hulkenberg hit the barriers in dramatic evening session

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A pair of red flag incidents caused havoc in the second practice session of the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix on Friday.

Early on, Carlos Sainz spun off and hit the barriers in a spectacular and dizzying fashion in his Ferrari, both car and driver ending up in a shower of debris.

The Spaniard had prompted some sharp intakes of breath from the spectators when he had a wiggle in the earlier session, feathering another barrier on that occasion but in a rather less catastrophic fashion.

A further stoppage occurred following the Ferrari smash after the drivers had been allowed to race again for mere minutes.

Nico Hulkenberg in the Haas rotated, out of control, in a similar manner to Sainz and shot across the track to hit the cladding with a wallop.

In total, the crashes caused the entire session to be shorted to just 20 minutes.

Disruption aside, the driver who managed to take the top slot following the stoppages was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Lando Norris in the McLaren coming in second.

After Max Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez gave up their seats in the first practice session, the Red Bull pair could only manage third and fifth, respectively.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas nudged in-between the two championship leaders by coming in fourth.

For his part, Verstappen seemed rattled by events, overtaking cars in the pit lane, and complaining via the team radio that his car was "bouncing like a kangaroo".

The early afternoon practice session saw George Russell of Mercedes get the first best lap time and continue at the top of the leaderboard until the clock ran down.

Constructors are obligated to have rookie test days, so nine of the 10 teams present chose the first track outing to fulfil these commitments.

However, Aston Martin reserve driver Felipe Drugovich and Robert Shwartzman in the Ferrari were the only newcomers to make the top 10.

Drugovich’s high placing – he came in second – was pleasing for team principal Mike Krack, who said this was the result of getting the right vehicle for the right driver and hinted at further positive results.

As for the seniors, AlphaTauri's Daniel Ricciardo was third fastest in the first session, followed by Bottas, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and McLaren's Oscar Piastri.

The rumours and conjecture about what happened between Lewis Hamilton’s people and the Red Bull team - who negotiated with who, when, and whether any of it even happened in the first place - were still rumbling on Friday at Yas.

Team principal Christian Horner maintained a sense of humour about the ongoing speculation, but was keen to assert he still felt it was a story about nothing.

He made the point that, the situation being what it is in modern racing and particularly F1, negotiations between all drivers and teams is a never-ending process.

“A lot has been made out of something fairly innocuous,” Horner said in a further attempt to draw a line under the affair for good.

"There were no formal discussions and there was no seat to be had," he added.

The next practice session in Abu Dhabi will take place at 2.30pm on Saturday, with qualifying at 6pm.

Updated: November 24, 2023, 5:59 PM