ABU DHABI // There were two reasons for Lewis Hamilton to be upbeat on Friday after practice had been completed for the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The triple world champion was quickest in both sessions for Sunday’s final race of the season to boost his hopes of claiming a fourth world title and third in succession.
But it would not have been just the raw pace of his Mercedes-GP that would have given the Briton satisfaction.
While his teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg was second quickest, and only 0.079 seconds behind his best time of 1 minute, 40.861 seconds, it would have the pace of the team’s nearest rivals that would have given him encouragement.
Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari was third, just 0.269 seconds off Hamilton, with the two Red Bull Racing cars of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo both fractionally over half-a-second adrift of the Briton.
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A fourth win in a row, and a third at Yas Marina Circuit, will not be enough for Hamilton to become champion if Rosberg, who is 12 points ahead of him in the standings, finishes second or third.
What Hamilton needs is either mechanical problems, a track incident or for some of his rivals to get ahead of Rosberg.
Both Red Bulls had been within a tenth of a second of Rosberg in the opening practice to suggest that they, along with Vettel, can be a threat during the 55-lap race.
“We got a lot of work done both on the short and long runs,” Hamilton said.
“I’m really happy with the car and we’re in a good position for tomorrow.”
Hamilton has taken pole at the past three races, but has not taken top spot in qualifying in Abu Dhabi since 2012, something he aims to change on Saturday.
“I haven’t managed it at this track for a long time, but I know I’m quick here,” he said.
“The car feels great and there’s still time in it, so that’s my absolute focus.”
A content Rosberg said of his efforts in practice: “It’s always interesting going from the hot to the cold, from lunch time to the evening, and how to adapt to that, and what to expect, but our car was working well in both conditions.”
Verstappen believes Red Bull’s focus is still on trying to beat Ferrari to be best of the rest behind Mercedes.
“Our race pace was not bad, and the balance was under control,” the Dutch teenager said.
“It will be tight with Ferrari, as they’re quite strong this weekend, but I’m sure we can be even stronger.”
Vettel’s impressive pace was blighted by a gearbox problem late in the second session that forced him to stop on the piece on track that runs under the Yas Viceroy.
However, the team who had the most troubled day were Toro Rosso.
Daniil Kvyat suffered a left-rear puncture in each session, the second pitching him into a high-speed spin at Turn 17 where the Russian was fortunate to avoid making contact with the barriers.
Though he was able to return to the pits, neither he or teammate Carlos Sainz Jr returned to the track for the rest of the day as the team looked to understand why two failures on the same side of the car had happened.
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1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes-GP 1:40.861
2. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes-GP 1:40.940
3. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari 1:41.130
4. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull Racing 1:41.389
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull Racing 1:41.390
6. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1:41.464
7. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams 1:41.959
8. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India 1:42.041
9. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India 1:42.264
10. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams 1:42.268
11. Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren 1:42.366
12. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1:42.823
13. Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Haas 1:43.012
14. Romain Grosjean (France) Haas 1:43.108
15. Jolyon Palmer (Britain) Renault 1:43.272
16. Esteban Ocon (France) Manor 1:43.600
17. Pascal Wehrlein (Germany) Manor 1:43.754
18. Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber 1:43.903
19. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber 1:44.045
20. Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) Renault 1:44.117
21. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso 1:44.478
22. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Toro Rosso 1:45.948
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