Aston Martin's Felipe Drugovich took top honours among the record ten rookies who were taking part in an official Formula 1 free practice session today in Abu Dhabi.
The 21-year-old Brazilian driver took over Fernando Alonso's seat for the first one-hour session at Yas Marina and finished in second place, just a little under three tenths slower than Mercedes' George Russell.
Drugovich said that he could tell how much work had gone into improving the AMR23 since his last outing in the car, in free practice for the Italian GP in Monza in September.
“P2 in my second FP1 session of the year feels good," he beamed afterward, having completed a total of 26 laps in green flag conditions. "I really enjoyed it out there.
"The start of the session was primarily focused on some aerodynamic testing and so I had a rake attached to the car. That meant putting in some steady and consistent laps to make sure we were collecting the data we needed.
"After that, I was given some soft tyres and allowed to push, which is always the best bit. The car felt quick – we’ve made progress since Monza – and I think we’re starting the weekend off in a good place."
“We went into today’s FP1 session running different set-ups on Lance and Felipe’s cars," said Aston Martin's performance director Tom McCullough. "[It] proved extremely fruitful from a data-gathering perspective.
"Felipe drove with great maturity and assurance in the session, underlining what a great job he’s done for us all year.
"While the first session wasn’t really about setting headline times, he put in some quick laps at the end and his efforts give us a solid baseline for the rest of the weekend."
Drugovich will be back in the cockpit again in a few days when he takes part in the young drivers test with Aston after the Abu Dhabi GP for the second year running.
"I’m looking forward to supporting the team this weekend and then getting back out on track on Tuesday for the end-of-season young driver test," he said.
"Having a full day of running is always beneficial to get into a good rhythm and to find the limits of the car.”
Although Drugovich was the quickest Aston driver at work in FP1, his best time of 1:26.360s was beaten by both Alonso and Lance Stroll in the evening session despite two red flags limiting their track time.
The team is still aiming to take fourth place in the constructors championship from McLaren, which is 11 points head in the standings heading into this weekend's season finale.
"We will try everything to end the season positively," insisted Alonso. "Anything can happen, as we saw in the last two events. We will fight until the last lap and see what we can do."
Stroll added: “I'm looking forward to Sunday's race and we'll be pushing hard to end the season on a high.
"Despite the two red flags in FP2 we still had some good running today," he added. "I got a good feel for the car ahead of tomorrow and I'm pleased with the data we've collected today.