x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

One in the eye for Sebastian Vettel

Alonso also struggles during practice, while the Red Bull champion takes a spin negotiating Turn 1 at Yas Marina.

Sebastian Vettel sits in the Red Bull Racing team pit during yesterday’s practice at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Sebastian Vettel sits in the Red Bull Racing team pit during yesterday’s practice at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // The number one dominated once again at Yas Marina Circuit, but, for once, it was not because of a scintillating practice performance by Sebastian Vettel, the all-conquering world champion.

The date was 11/11/11 on the calendar and it was Turn 1 at the 5.5-kilometre track that proved the major talking point of yesterday's practice at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Vettel, whose Red Bull Racing car carries the No 1 after he secured a maiden world championship title here last year, slammed into Turn 1 during second practice, before Fernando Alonso, Ferrari's two-time world champion, was also humbled by the fast left-hander.

Vettel, who has already retained his drivers' title, was the first to be caught out 50 minutes into the session as he spun wide after clipping the kerb and sliding into the barrier, where he conversed with a marshal and returned to the pits.

"I think I was too wide and too far on to the kerb, so I lost the rear and couldn't catch the car anymore," said the German, who is the only man to triumph at Yas Marina in an F1 car. "If you touch the kerb, then it's fine, but I went too far."

The 24 year old was able to get back on track in the closing minutes after his car was returned to the pits, but Alonso was not so fortunate. Fifteen minutes after Vettel's incident, the Spaniard spun as he exited the turn and went backwards into the barrier, damaging his rear wing. The 30 year old said he would be a little more circumspect when taking the corner during today's qualifying session.

"We try to maximise the track in all the corners, but we need to be very careful in Turn 1 when we arrive to Q3 and be a little bit calm on that braking," he said.

The dramas for Vettel and Alonso distracted attention away from a successful day for McLaren-Mercedes pair Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

Button, despite finishing top of the timesheets in the morning practice, said he was "still not entirely happy with the balance" of his car as he looks to secure second place in the race for the drivers' title.

"I was playing around with overtaking on my long run, but I still reckon it'll be difficult to overtake people in the DRS [Drag Reduction System] zones," he said.

"I think it's going to be a bit of a struggle to make moves stick in the race, which means it's going to be important to qualify up at the front."

Hamilton, less than 24 hours after he had explained how problems off-track had been largely to blame for enduring his most frustrating season in the sport, emulated his stablemate in the afternoon, by finishing fastest - almost 0.2 seconds ahead of Button.

"It was a really positive day for me," he said. "We seem to be quite competitive. The car feels a lot better than it did at the last race.

"At the last race I had degradation and didn't have the pace, so it feels much better this weekend. That's a real positive for me."

Additional reporting by Graham Caygill

sports@thenational.ae