Saturday, November 12, 2011

McLaren Tops Friday Practice for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Photo Credit: Nissan/Infiniti

With 17 rounds completed for the 2011 Formula 1 circuit, the World Drivers title and constructor championship is sealed. The dominance of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing insured an early celebration that changes the focus through the final races of the grand prix season. The third annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix sees this year's 24-car Formula 1 circus assembling to turn the Yas Marina Circuit into a pivotal motorsport battleground with just two races remaining in the 2011 season. Entering Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Vettel has the distinction as the only driver who has won the relatively new race on the Formula 1 circuit. Sebastian Vettel won the 2009 and 2010 events on the Yas Marina Circuit.

2011 Formula 1 driver champion Vettel is seeking a third-straight race victory after clinching the driver's title at the Japanese Grand Prix. Attempting to secure a 12th win in 2011, Vettel has the ability to tie racing hero and current Mercedes GP driver Michael Schumacher's Formula 1 record for victories in one season. Sebastian Vettel needs to win both grand prixs closing out the Formula 1 schedule.

Though German driver Vettel locked up the 2011 World Driver's Championship, a fierce contest remains between Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber for the runner-up position in the driver's standings. Separated by just 19-points, all three Formula 1 stars will be looking for maximum points at the Abu Dhabi and Brazilian Grand Prix rounds. Besides the story lines for the top drivers and teams Red Bull Racing, McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari, every contender in the matured 2011 Formula 1 season's field will want to put on a points-paying show closing out the season in hopes for 2012.

A modern 5.554-kilometer, 21-turn race track, the Yas Marina Circuit holding Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix hosted two Formula 1 prep sessions Friday for teams and drivers. Under a baking sun, Formula 1 cars lapped the track as air temperatures soared into the upper 20 degree Celsius range. In Practice one, McLaren-Mercedes driver Jenson Button nailed a 1 minute, 20.263 second lap time to top the session. The Red Bull-Renault of Mark Webber was runner-up in track session while Lewis Hamilton's McLaren clocked just under 2/100ths of a second slower. Sebastian Vettel and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso rounded out the top-five ranking in the first track session.

Overall, the time differential among the 23 Formula 1 cars taking time in the initial session at Yas Marina Circuit was 8.288 seconds with Canadian Robert Wickens at the bottom of the time chart. Honoured with being the third driver for Marussia Virgin Racing, the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 champion recorded 23 laps behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car.

Williams F1 driver Rubens Barrichello did not register a lap in the first practice having been sidelined through the session by an issue triggering of the automatic kill switch in the Cosworth engine. Barrichello and the #11 Williams-Cosworth would return for the second practice Friday topping teammate Pastor Maldonado's fast lap.

While the first practice session for the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix indicated the world audience could be looking forward to another McLaren/Red Bull Racing rivalry throughout the weekend, some misfortune for the Red Bull Racing team gave the McLaren-Mercedes bunch some begging rights heading into Saturday. In the second afternoon practice, it was Lewis Hamilton who led over Button recording a 1 minute, 39.586 second time. The McLaren cars were followed on the time track sheet by the Ferrari teammates Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa who posted near identical top times less than 4/10th of a second slower than Hamilton.

In the two Friday practices, it was Mark Webber outrunning his two-time World Championship teammate Vettel, In the first warm-up session on the Yas Marina circuit, Webber was the second-fastest Formula 1 car overall behind Jenson Button by a 0.126 seconds gap. In 4th, Sebastian Vettel was almost half a second slower than the top time of the opening practice. Admitting a rare mistake in the second practice session, Vettel lost control in the Yas Marina Circuit's turn 1 confessing he was too far on the track's curb. The second Friday practice saw the Red Bull Racing cars collecting 5th and 6th on the final time results.

Mercedes GP Michael Schumacher was 7th quickest in the afternoon distantly ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg 20th of the 24th Formula 1 drivers. Rosberg did complete an afternoon practice high 41 laps behind his race car as Mercedes GP is confident they have acquired some valuable race data for Sunday. Using Mercedes race engines, the Force India cars of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta were ahead of the Ferrari-powered Sauber vehicles.

There will be first final practice session for the Formula 1 cars at Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday ahead of qualifying for the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix taking place at 5pm local time.

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