• Hamilton leads second F1 practice after Button fastest in first
• Ferraris head Red Bull of world champion Sebastian Vettel
They are still more used to camel racing in these parts but Lewis Hamilton provided something a little more urgent with the quickest time in the second practice session for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina, the only race in the season that takes place in twilight. Hamilton beat his team-mate, Jenson Button, into second place and they were followed by the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, and then the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
It was a difficult session for Vettel – who has won the two previous races here – and Alonso, who both came to grief on Turn One and spun off the track. The session was red-flagged following Alonso’s crash, in which the Spaniard broke his rear wing and rear suspension.
The Red Bulls dominated the first part of the session after Force India’s Paul Di Resta had been the early leader. But by the end the Red Bulls had been the third-fastest cars behind the McLarens and Ferraris.
Hamilton, perhaps, was encouraged by some flattering words from his old foe Alonso, who said the Englishman would be the man to watch during winter testing as he is “the only driver capable of winning races in a car which is not the best”.
Hamilton, who has been particularly sensitive in this difficult season and clearly needs some TLC from his fellows, said: “I’m blown away Fernando is so positive towards me despite my season. Despite the relationship we’ve had, I think our friendship and the respect we have for one another has got a lot stronger.
“It’s nice to see that coming out because I’ve only ever said he is one of the best drivers, if not the best driver here. It’s nice to know I’ve got support from some drivers.”
Button, who has had six podiums including two victories in the past seven races, finished fastest in the first practice session of day and it was almost another one-two for McLaren, with a late charge from Webber finally splitting the two cars from the Woking stable.
But it was an unhappy session for Ferrari, with Alonso and Massa spinning off the track. Alonso appeared to have a problem with oversteer and twice ran wide on Turn Eight.
This has been a difficult year for Ferrari and their malaise was symbolised earlier in the day when Formula Rossa, the chief attraction of the nearby Ferrari World which accelerates from a standstill to 240km (155mph) in 4.99 seconds, in true F1 style, went on the blink, frustrating the BBC team who had to mooch around the world’s biggest indoor theme park for almost four hours.
There was a strong drive from Adrian Sutil, whose position at Force India has been the subject of much debate with next year’s contracts due to be announce shortly. Sutil finished seventh, ahead of Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes, and was eighth with another good drive when the shadows lengthened.
Button, meanwhile, must come third on Sunday to become the first McLaren driver to beat Hamilton over a season. Over the next two races he should confirm his position as the second best driver in Formula One this season.
“I’m definitely more of a complete driver [than when he won the championship in 2009]” he said. Button also saw the possibility of double world champion Vettel cracking under pressure next season.
“We don’t really know what will happen with Sebastian under pressure. We’ve only seen it a couple of times – in Hungary and Canada. When he is out in the lead he does do a magnificent job. But if we were quick enough to put them under pressure, that might changes things.