Valtteri Bottas fastest in the second Abu Dhabi practice ahead of Lewis Hamilton

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Practice
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YAS ISLAND, Abu Dhabi — While Valtteri Bottas enjoyed the fastest time in the second practice Friday for the Formula One season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the ice-cool Kimi Raikkonen was busy putting out flames.

Bottas was 0.2 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton and 0.77 seconds clear of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.

The session was interrupted near the end when the back of Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo car caught fire after he pulled over to the side of the track.

The veteran Finnish driver emerged unscathed, and he even helped firefighters put out the blaze, pointing a fire extinguisher at the flames and then advising the track marshals where to aim.

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Practice
Kimi Raikkonen’s No. 7 Alfa Romeo Racing C39 Ferrari caught fire during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi (Getty Images).

It takes more than a flaming car to phase a 41-year-old driver with a record 331 races, 103 podiums, a world title and the nickname “The Iceman” for his unflappable demeanor.

True to form, the incident did not bother him.

“No, there was nothing scary about it,” Raikkonen said. “It was just a shame it catches on fire and then obviously it gets all messy afterwards with trying to put the fire out. It’s one of those things.”

When the session restarted with 5 minutes left, Hamilton encountered a problem with his gears and could not drive. His team mechanics had to remove the car because it was stuck in front of the Haas garage, preventing their two cars from getting out.

It prevented Hamilton from having a chance to beat his teammate’s time, and Bottas welcomed the morale boost.

“Immediately, the car felt pretty good, the main issue is really getting the balance together through the lap,” Bottas said. “But overall it’s not far off, as the time showed.”

Bottas is looking to end a poor run of form and ensure he finishes second ahead of Verstappen in the championship, behind runaway champion Hamilton.

“I’m really focusing this weekend on my own work, mentally try to be in a good place,” said Bottas, who has won two of 16 races this season and re-signed a one-year deal in August with Mercedes for next season. “For me the targets are clear.”

Earlier, Verstappen was quickest ahead of Bottas and Renault driver Esteban Ocon in the first practice, while Hamilton was fifth. The seven-time F1 champion, who missed the last race after contracting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), struggled early in the session with a brake sensor issue which needed fixing in the team garage for about 40 minutes.

“I was very happy this morning when I got here, I missed doing what I love,” Hamilton said. “It’s not something I really want to go in deeply about. It was an experience for sure, I’m just grateful to be back in the team. It felt like I’d spent a lot of time away from the car.”

A third practice will be held on Saturday ahead of qualifying under floodlights at Yas Marina circuit.

“We will see whether I can sit in a different press conference chair tomorrow,” said Verstappen, who has come close to a pole position several times this season.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”