Abu Dhabi: Outsider Lewis Hamilton led the way as the four title contenders dominated Friday’s free practice for the thrilling Formula One season finale in Abu Dhabi.
The McLaren driver Hamilton topped the day-into-night session ahead of Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Mark Webber in the second Red Bull.
Alonso leads the championship with 246 points from Webber (238), Vettel (231) and Hamilton (222) into what will be the most dramatic season finale in F1 history Sunday.
A victory is worth 25 points. Alonso will be assured of the title if he finishes first or second but there are a myriad of other possibilities.
Friday’s afternoon session only added to the excitement as all four rivals showed they will be highly competitive.
Hamilton only has a remote chance of lifting the trophy, but the 2008 champ showed his class with the day’s fastest lap of 1 minute 40.888 seconds as the sun set and the floodlights went on at the 5.550-kilometres Yas Marina Circuit.
Vettel, who had dominated morning practice, clocked 1:41.145. The 2005 and 2006 champion Alonso and Webber, meanwhile, were separated by just one thousandth of a second on 1:41.314 and 1:41.315, respectively.
Practice results are not necessarily an indication of the cars’ performance on a circuit as teams and drivers use these sessions to find the perfect setup for qualifying and the race.
If Friday’s result was the race outcome, Alonso would lift his third trophy with 261 points ahead of Webber (250), Vettel (249) and Hamilton (247).
But Vettel is coming off victory last Sunday ahead of Webber in Brazil and also won from the Australian at the maiden Abu Dhabi race last year.
Alonso has been the most consistent driver in the second half of the season with four wins and three podiums from eight races, starting with a controversial German GP success after Ferrari ordered his team-mate Felipe Massa to let him pass.
There has been speculation of a (forbidden) Red Bull team order if Vettel leads from Webber and Alonso in the final lap. Officials said there will be no team order but that the drivers will know what to d – in this case Vettel letting Webber pass for the title because he himself has no chance.