Max Verstappen set the fastest time in the opening practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton made his return to Mercedes.
Hamilton missed the Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for COVID-19 in Bahrain, but returned in Abu Dhabi after a series of negative tests to set the fifth fastest in first practice on Friday.
Verstappen’s best time, a 1:37.378, was 0.034s quicker than Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas as Red Bull hopes to take the fight to the world champions one last time in 2020.
Esteban Ocon was third fastest for Renault, 1.1s off Verstappen and just 0.032s ahead of the second Red Bull of Alex Albon.
Hamilton was 1.3s off the pace but set his time on the hard compound tyres whereas the top four set their times on softs. He also lost 20 minutes of track time early in the session after his front brakes appeared to stay on during his first lap back on track, resulting in temperatures going too high and a call from the pit wall to return to the garage.
Racing Point finished the session sixth and seventh, with Sakhir Grand Prix race winner Sergio Perez behind teammate Lance Stroll. However, new power unit components fitted to Perez’s car this weekend means he will start from the back of the grid regardless of where he qualifies on Saturday.
Perez will be joined at the back of the grid by Kevin Magnussen, who also has a grid penalty, and saw his car driven by 2021 Haas driver Mick Schumacher in opening practice.
Schumacher was confirmed as a Haas driver for next year last week and finished his first full F1 practice session in 18th, 2.8s clear of Pietro Fittipaldi, who continues to fill in for Romain Grosjean this weekend.
Robert Kubica stood in for a single practice session at Alfa Romeo in Antonio Giovinazzi’s car as part of his reserve driver role and set the 15th fastest time.
Daniel Ricciardo finished the session at the bottom of the timesheets after a loss of fuel pressure saw him stop on track after just three laps.