F1 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Hamilton targets pole position in qualifying for the Duel in the Desert

PUBLISHED: 17:53 25 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:59 27 November 2016

Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix [Picture: Sean Ramsell]

Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix [Picture: Sean Ramsell]

SEAN RAMSELL

Reigning Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets in both practice sessions today ahead of the final race of the season - the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - and has pole position in his sights in qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix [Picture: Sean Ramsell]Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix [Picture: Sean Ramsell]

The 31-year-old Mercedes driver from Hertfordshire was fastest around Abu Dhabi’s opulent Yas Marina Circuit today (Friday), with Silver Arrows colleague Nico Rosberg P2 in each session.

Hamilton clocked 1m 42.869s in first practice and 1m 40.861s in the second session, with Rosberg’s best 1m 40.940s.

Three-time world F1 champion Hamilton said: “It’s been a great day. Generally very smooth with no real issues.

“The first run in FP2 wasn’t ideal as there was so much traffic and I didn’t get to do a flying lap.

“But after that I managed to get a decent time in. Not perfect, as I was still feeling where the car was, but good enough.”

Hamilton added: “We got a lot of work done both on the short and long runs.

“I’m really happy with the car and we’re in a good position for tomorrow.

“Pole is the goal for tomorrow [in qualifying].

“I haven’t managed it at this track for a long time but I know I’m quick here, the car feels great and there’s still some time in it, so that’s my absolute focus right now.”

Both Silver Arrows drivers ran the Soft and UltraSoft compound tyre in both sessions.

After practice, world championship leader Rosberg said it was “a decent” start to the weekend.

He said: “Straight away the car started off with a balance that was in the right area.

Lewis Hamilton at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix [Picture: Sean Ramsell]Lewis Hamilton at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix [Picture: Sean Ramsell]

“It’s always interesting going from hot conditions to cooler ones between the afternoon and evening sessions.

“Adapting to that and knowing what to expect can be a challenge but our car was working well in both conditions, on low and high fuel.

“Graining on the front tyres when they’re cold is the main thing we need to get to grips with in preparation for the race.”

If Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg needs to finish in the top three to win the world title for the first time.

Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix [Picture: Sean Ramsell]Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix [Picture: Sean Ramsell]

Mercedes director Paddy Lowe added: “That was a solid start to the weekend.

“Both drivers struggled to put good laps together at various points in each session with traffic and the odd mistake.

“But our pace is looking reasonably good on both the single lap and on long runs.

“We have more work to do overnight to make sure we have our setup and strategy right for the weekend ahead.

“Tonight, these W07 cars will be built to race for the last time – cars that the team has laboured over for thousands of hours.

“It’s the first step towards the end of a quite incredible working life for these machines. Hopefully we can give them the send-off they deserve.”

While Mercedes filled the top two positions in free practice, McLaren-Honda drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finished 11th and 12th respectively at the end of FP2.

The afternoon’s opening session was spent gathering and correlating data for use over the winter, for next year’s car.

The evening session, which more accurately models the conditions in qualifying and the race, were used to balance the car and assess tyrewear simulation models.

Alonso said: “As a team, we need to take every opportunity we can to test things on the track for next year.

“We need to learn and understand as much as we can about configurations or philosophies that we can put into next year’s car.

“And today was a day when we could really improve our understanding – particularly in FP1, which isn’t really representative of the conditions we’ll find in either qualifying or the race, so it made sense to experiment a little.

“In FP2, we had our only opportunity to learn about the tyres in similar conditions to those we’ll experience in the race – at night, and with cooler track temperatures.

“It’s been a positive start to the weekend – let’s hope we can maintain that momentum into the race.”

Ahead of his final race, Button said: “Wearing my old 2009 helmet design today was great – the colours are fantastic, but the memories are even better.

“It wasn’t a great day for us – we had to stop running fairly early in FP1, then elected to change the power unit before FP2.

“Then I got out half an hour into the session. It might’ve been a bit of a troublesome day, but I still think we learned something useful by the end of the day’s running.

“It’s fun to drive around here, and I think our race pace will be stronger than it has been for the past few races, we’ve just got to pull it all together by qualifying strongly.

“Whatever weekend we have, I want to make it as good as I can – and not just because it’s my last race. Hopefully we’ll be stronger tomorrow.”

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