Verstappen admits Friday practice "didn't go to plan"

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB16B. 10.12.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina
© XPB 

Red Bull's Max Verstappen admitted that Friday's practice hadn't gone entirely according to plan, with the team looking down on one-lap pace compared with that of their main rivals Mercedes.

Verstappen heads into the season finale in Abu Dhabi locked in points with Lewis Hamilton in the driver's standings meaning that whoever scores highest at Yas Marina will be crowned 2021 champion.

Verstappen was quickest in the daytime practice but fell back in the twilight conditions of FP2 and was only fourth fastest, 0.641s off Hamilton's best.

"We're still learning and understanding a few things," Verstappen told the media after the end of the session. "Clearly the short-run didn't go to plan, lacking a bit of pace.

"But I think the long runs were quite a bit more competitive, so that's also important," he added, having looked strong over an extended run on the soft compound tyres while Hamilton switched to the mediums.

"We made a few changes to the set up across the two sessions and I do think they are positive," he said. "I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow to put it all together.”

While Hamilton was half a second quicker on the soft compound than he had been on the mediums, Verstappen's times on both tyres of tyres were very similar. It means that Red Bull might have the option of changing to a soft-centric strategy or Sunday's race.

Sergio Perez (MEX), Red Bull Racing 10.12.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina

Verstappen's team mate Sergio Perez was within a tenth of his time and looking to play a major role in Red Bull's championship battle with Mercedes.

"We have some work to do overnight after today’s sessions," he admitted. "We ran very different set-ups across the two cars, so we've got plenty of information.

"We need to go through in detail and pick out the best parts for qualifying," he said. "There will be learnings to take forward into our final practice session so we can look to qualify strongly on Saturday.”

“We’ve got plenty of data," principal Christian Horner confirmed to Sky Sports F1. "We’ve got some areas of the car we need to tidy up overnight, so it’s going to be a long evening certainly here and back in Milton Keynes.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB16B and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W12 both called in by the FIA for checks. 10.12.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina

“I think the long-run pace looked pretty sensible; we’ve just got to tidy up the balance of the short runs," he added. "They [Mercedes] look very competitive here, certainly in the first two sectors.

"I think sector three we come back at them, but I think the damage is done in the first two sectors, but we’ve still got 24 hours to find a better setup and a bit more pace.”

Verstappen won last year's Grand Prix at the venue but the track has been modified since then and is thought to be to the advantage of Mercedes.

Even so, the Dutch driver is happy with the changes. "I think it makes it a bit more fun to drive," he said. "I do think they are positive."

"I don’t know how much the track has improved since last year," contributed Perez. "It’s still nice to drive, but there are question marks for me on whether it has improved the racing.

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