Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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ABU DHABI – If Lewis Hamilton happens to have a blueprint for how this weekend should go, he is sticking to it so far. Having lost out to teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg in every session at the Brazilian Grand Prix, the Briton hit back in Abu Dhabi today by finishing fastest in both FP1 and FP2.

The margins may have been small, but they were significant. Practice may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but it does usually set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Had Rosberg finished quickest in both sessions, he would be leaving Yas Marina tonight with his eyes on a race win – after all, that is his end of the bargain for winning this championship.

Instead, he is instead left thinking about how he can overhaul Hamilton, who said that the Mercedes car was “the best I’ve ever driven here, without doubt.” He is looking comfortable for the time being, but there is still plenty of running time left in this championship drama.

Rounding up all of the news and action from the paddock today, here’s the notebook.

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Yesterday, I penned a feature on the weight of expectation and pressure that is being placed on Lewis Hamilton’s shoulders in Abu Dhabi this weekend. If Nico Rosberg wanted to get his teammate and championship rival under the thumb from the word go, starting in practice was important. A perfect weekend like the one we saw in Brazil would put the ball in Lewis’ court with regards to the championship.

Today though, Lewis was effortlessly cool as he rallied to top spot in both of the practice sessions, leading Rosberg by a tiny margin at the top of the timesheets. A net ‘win’ – that is, adding his lead in FP1 and FP2 together – of 0.216 seconds may not seem like much, but it is enough. After all, he only has to finish second on Sunday.

Rosberg’s big hope in Abu Dhabi was that the likes of Williams, Red Bull or Ferrari could cut the gap to Mercedes and get in the mix. Thanks to the double points rule, if he wins the race on Sunday and Lewis finishes third, he will be crowned champion. Only on Thursday, the German said the following:

“It can happen as easy as a Williams, for example, having a great start and slotting in between us two. The track is one of the most difficult to voertake. We were looking at that this morning. The speed difference you need to overtake the guy in front is really very big at this track and so that will be one opportunity for example.

“But there’s so many scenarios, so, as I say, I’m optimistic.”

Any optimism Nico may have had on Thursday of such a scenario coming to fruition must now be shattered in pieces on the floor. In FP1, Mercedes finished 1.7 seconds clear of the field – in Formula 1, that is a lifetime. FP2 was a little closer, with third placed Kevin Magnussen falling seven-tenths of a second shy of the Silver Arrows.

Still, it’s difficult to see anyone realistically splitting the Mercedes drivers unless something out of the ordinary does happen. Rosberg’s title hopes may well be pinned on Hamilton suffering from yet more misfortune – it’s almost like Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner.

All Nico can do for himself this weekend is win the race. However, analyzing the practice times, even that seems to be a bit of a stretch. Throughout the long runs in FP2 once the sun had fallen, Hamilton was quicker. Rosberg yo-yoed between times in the high 1:47s and low 1:48s; Hamilton, on the other hand, was consistently lapping in the mid 1:47s. His driving style is less demanding on the rear tires and he also uses less fuel – is this checkmate?

Of course it isn’t. Practice, in the grand scheme of things, means nothing. In reality, qualifying doesn’t either. This championship will only be decided on Sunday. However, for the time being, round one has gone to Lewis.

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That’s all from Yas Marina today, but be sure to join us for FP3 live on Live Extra and online at 5a ET tomorrow. This will be followed by qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET.

Regardless if follow Formula 1 religiously, or are just a general sports fan, this is an event you do not want to miss.