First blood to Grosjean in Abu Dhabi practice

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Romain Grosjean has finished the first practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix quickest after producing a brilliant lap in the dying moments of the session to deny Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel top spot.

The Frenchman’s time of 1:44.241 proved to be unbeatable as all of the drivers ran on the medium compound tire in order to save their softs for the sessions later on this weekend.

Practice got off to a rather quiet start with most teams electing to only send their drivers out for an installation lap and nothing more to begin with in order to save their tires and engines. However, Sergio Perez eventually posted the first competitive time of 1:45.331, setting the example for the rest of the field. Romain Grosjean, Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado all followed suit half way through the session, but the Williams driver was lucky not to put his Lotus in the wall after a slide at the final corner. A number of drivers took to their team radios to complain about a lack of grip on a relatively-unused circuit, meaning that it took some time to rubber in.

Grosjean was the first driver to topple Perez at the top, edging the Mexican out by just 0.002 seconds on the medium compound tire before the front runners finally emerged from the pits to set their first times. Sebastian Vettel looked to continue his relentless run of form by going quickest with thirty-five minutes remaining, but he was told that he needed to improve further by his engineer. Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen soon proved that he did have to improve by going one-tenth quicker, but their sojourn at the top of the timesheets lasted but a few seconds as Vettel re-established his dominance. However, Mercedes hit back in fashion as Hamilton and Nico Rosberg moved into first and second place with thirty minutes left.

Mark Webber took the mantle to lead Red Bull’s charge by going second-quickest and splitting the Silver Arrows, but Vettel soon demoted his teammate to third place by going P2 himself, less than one-hundredth of a second slower after making a mistake at the final corner. Paul di Resta ran strongly to finish the session in seventh place, whilst James Calado piloted the other Force India as his bid for a full-time seat next season gathers steam. The Briton put in a confident display to finish the session in fourteenth before returning to his GP2 duties.

With just a couple of minutes remaining, Romain Grosjean produced a superb lap to go fastest of all for Lotus, and that is where he remained as none of the drivers opted to take on the soft tire. The Frenchman is currently enjoying a three-race streak of podium finishes, finishing third in India despite starting in seventeenth place, and he is looking increasingly capable of claiming his first win in Formula One.

Grosjean will be hoping to repeat this result later on today in the second free practice session, which is live on NBCSN from 9am.

Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.