Practice 2: Kovalainen fastest as McLaren dominate

Another first, on day filled with them! The first ever day to night practice session which started at 5pm local time and went seamlessly past sunset at around 6pm and ran until full darkness engulfed the Yas Marina Circuit at 6.30pm.

The wow factor of Formula 1’s newest venue has been the highlight of a day of relatively subdued on track action. At the new circuit, being driven on for the first time in anger, one may be forgiven to expect some drama as the drivers came to grips with the configuration and it’s nuances. But such is the nature of the Herman Tilke designed track where run-off areas are massive and mistakes are really punished even in the high speed technical parts.

Another first for the circuit as early in the session Adrian Sutil (Force India) is the first to spin and go underneath the grandstand at the end of the straight.

After the first half hour Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) topped the timing screens, giving a polished performance on a circuit which is pretty much a level playing field by virtue of the fact that everyone was starting from scratch. No track knowledge to tap into.

Others impressing were Kamui Kobayashi (Panasonic Toyota) who is clearly raising eyebrows with his raw pace.

The dubious honour of the first F1 engine blow-up at Yas Marina went to Robert Kubica as his BMW power plant let go big time, trailing a plume of smoke the Pole parked his BMW Sauber and would be confined to spectator status for the rest of the session.

Speaking of spectators, sure there were more than in the earlier session, but hardly the house full conditions expected for the first day of F1 action at Yas Marina. UK based Tony Vail, who traveled to be part of the historic first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, looked around and concluded, “Problem when you have grandstands with seating for 50,000 is when only half the people turn-up then it looks empty.”

At the half way mark the Vodafone McLaren Mereceds duo were top of the charts with Lewis Hamilton fractionally faster thean Heikki Kovalainen. This did not last long as Red Bull Racing boys, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were soon pounding fast lap after fast lap. After a flurry of several super quick laps Vettel split the McLaren’s with the second fastest time.

At the very end Kovalainen put in a monster effort to top the timing screens at the end of the session. Perhaps the Finn was sending out a signal of his capabilities as it appears his days are numbered in the Woking squad. Hamilton was fractionally with the second fastest time. Clearly the McLaren is well suited to Yas Marina and ended the day with the psychological edge.

Button was best of the rest with the third quickest time, from fourth fastest Vettel. Rookies Kobayashi and Buemi were fifth and sixth fastest, respectively, both really showing their true capabilities at Yas Marina. Both about a second quicker than their team mates.

Webber ended seventh fastest, ahead of Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP) eighth, Nico Rosberg (AT&T Williams) ninth and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) wrestling the F60 into the top ten.

Remarkably the top 13 were within one second while everyone found about two or three seconds in the four hours between sessions. It can’t really get much closer and augers well for a very interesting weekend at the marina.

Notably out of sorts were the Renault pair of Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean. Both struggling to find pace, only managing 16th and 18th respectively. Grosjean, who was in doubt for this race, again did himself no favours with a ragged and undisciplined display.

Driver’s views were mixed on the opening day with Rosberg impressed, “My view is that it is a cool track, it’s going to be good to race on and from a driver’s perspective, it sure is fun. The pitlane exit has been talked about a lot, my verdict for the moment is it is pretty exciting!”

While Kubica was less enthused,  “The pit exit is quite tricky. I don’t understand why it’s so far away. It’s still very dangerous. You can’t see if anyone is coming.”

Hopefully the yachts get some life (and lights!) as the weekend progresses because on the first day they looked like props on a movie set.

2009 FORMULA 1 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX
Practice 2 Results

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 2 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 1:41.307 35
2 1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:41.504 0.197 34
3 22 Jenson Button Brawn-Mercedes 1:41.541 0.234 39
4 15 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:41.591 0.284 37
5 10 Kamui Kobayashi Toyota 1:41.636 0.329 34
6 12 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:41.683 0.376 37
7 14 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:41.684 0.377 34
8 23 Rubens Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes 1:41.831 0.524 38
9 16 Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:41.931 0.624 39
10 4 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:41.987 0.680 39
11 20 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:42.180 0.873 28
12 17 Kazuki Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:42.245 0.938 36
13 6 Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber 1:42.278 0.971 36
14 9 Jarno Trulli Toyota 1:42.409 1.102 30
15 21 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:42.530 1.223 33
16 7 Fernando Alonso Renault 1:42.782 1.475 29
17 3 Giancarlo Fisichella Ferrari 1:42.932 1.625 37
18 8 Romain Grosjean Renault 1:43.021 1.714 37
19 11 Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari 1:43.022 1.715 39
20 5 Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 1:43.708 2.401 13