Lewis Hamilton sent out an early warning shot to Formula 1 championship rival Nico Rosberg ahead of their title showdown by leading opening practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton enters the final race of the season trailing Rosberg by 12 points in the standings, meaning the odds are stacked against the Briton in his chase for a fourth world championship. A top-three finish will be enough to clinch Rosberg a maiden crown.
Hamilton calmed any early nerves he may have had heading into the weekend by topping first practice in Abu Dhabi, posting a fastest lap time of 1:42.869 at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Hamilton led from Rosberg early on, but was able to improve inside the final 30 minutes to eventually enjoy an advantage of 0.374 seconds over his teammate.
Despite being able to wrap up a one-two finish for Mercedes, Rosberg only narrowly edged out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P3, again suggesting that the Dutchman has the capability to play championship spoiler on Sunday.
Daniel Ricciardo backed up Verstappen’s pace in the second Red Bull, finishing fourth, while Sebastian Vettel finished over six-tenths of a second further back in P5 for Ferrari.
Sergio Perez led Force India’s charge in sixth, finishing ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Felipe Massa followed in eighth and ninth, as Marcus Ericsson sprung a surprise by finishing 10th for Sauber.
The session was marked with a couple of incidents, the most notable involving Daniil Kvyat, who appeared to suffer a tire failure on his Toro Rosso in the first 30 minutes. Its severity meant that the Russian could not head back out in FP1.
Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean also hit trouble during the session, limiting both of their running, while Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon gave up their seats to reserve drivers Alfonso Celis Jr. and Jordan King at Force India and Manor respectively.