We’re here, the final Friday practice sessions of the 2021 season and boy do they mean a lot.
The Yas Marina track has gone under some reconstruction over the last 12 months and many of the slow 90-degree corners have been taken away to allow for closer racing.
Also, two new hairpins have been installed to help promote overtaking.
For the final time in 2021, let’s get into the Friday action!
With the new track layout, drivers were eager to hop out onto the track and get to grips with it.
We got to see immediately just how quick this new Yas Marina track is. Without the slow and unnecessary chicanes and the new profile of the final sector, drivers were going 11 seconds faster than last year.
The midfield teams look like they are going to be in a tight battle once again. We’ve seen how chaotic they have been in both Qatar and Jeddah.
Alpha Tauri were looking solid once again in Free Practice, but we have yet to see it materialise in the race so it’s difficult to gauge if this early pace will pay off.
They were forever closely followed by the Alpines who have been very impressive in the last two races and look to continue this great run of form that we are seeing from them as they look to confirm 5th in the constructors championship.
McLaren weren’t pushing too hard as they stuck to their programme as they often do on a Friday, but they were showcasing their special livery for this weekend which was looking stunning out on track.
It did appear from early on that Lando Norris has the pace over Daniel Ricciardo. Norris would need that pace as he will be fighting with both Ferrari drivers for 5th in the driver’s championship.
But by the end of the session, it was Max Verstappen who topped the first practice session of the weekend ahead of Valtteri Bottas and then Lewis Hamilton in 3rd place.
While it may seem Red Bull have an edge, tricks are being played by both teams and we won’t see where they are until Saturday evening.
The sun was setting over Yas Marina as the drivers started to push the times as they did some qualifying runs.
Lewis Hamilton was the first of the title challengers to cross the line on a set of the Medium tyres and put it fastest.
When Max put in his lap, he could only go second but then had his lap time deleted for track limits.
Valtteri Bottas was also pushing his Mercedes to the max and hit the Armco barrier for good measure. The rear stepped out through turn 14 and tapped the barrier with his rear tyre, however he was lucky to sustain no damage.
Nicholas Latifi was not able to avoid damage however when he lost the rear of his car through turn 13 and went backwards into the wall. He kept the car going but would have to pit for a new rear wing.
The drivers then made the switch the soft tyres for their second qualifying runs as we got to ride on board with Fernando Alonso in his visor and got to see him set a very impressive time before it was deleted.
A weird game of cat and mouse was being played between Red Bull and Mercedes as they didn’t look to want to show their hands too early.
Both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were towards the top of the timing sheets, but they weren’t the fastest.
That accolade went to the Alpines who were dictating the pace throughout the middle of the session and, until Lewis Hamilton pipped him, it was Esteban Ocon who was topping the timing sheets.
Valtteri Bottas was going fast but seemed to be struggling with the car. He had a huge lock-up going into the fast right handers in the final sector and was overall 4 tenths off Lewis Hamilton’s fastest time and also slower than Esteban Ocon.
Red Bull could only manage 4th and 5th with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez respectively.
Just as the chequered flag dropped on FP2, Kimi Raikkonen was in the barrier after a hefty shunt at turn 14. Not the way he would have wanted to end his final Friday practice session.
It all comes down to this
Plenty of games have been played between Red Bull and Mercedes throughout both sessions today and there are going to be plenty more as the weekend unfolds.
The amount of pressure on the shoulders of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen is going to be immense and so far both drivers have looked very calm and collected on track.
You may see how both drivers have performed so far and see that Lewis Hamilton looks to have the edge, and you could be correct, but I believe that we haven’t seen the true pace of the Red Bull so far.
Max Verstappen didn’t set anywhere near a representative fast lap time in FP2 so that 6 and a half tenths gap between Lewis Hamilton and the Dutchman is not the true gap between them.
We will have to wait until tomorrow to see where the true pace lies on this track and I for one can’t wait to see just how close this battle is going to be.
Bring on this title fight!