Hamilton sets the pace in Abu Dhabi as Button says team-mates departure will be 'a big loss'
11:43 GMT, 2 November 2012
Lewis Hamilton continued his love affair with the Yas Marina circuit to lead the way in initial practice ahead of Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
For the fifth time in 10 practice sessions at the futuristic track, Hamilton set the pace as he spearheaded a McLaren one-two, finishing exactly a third of a second quicker than Jenson Button.
Hamilton's lap for the 5.554-kilometre track of one minute 43.285 seconds was also set on the harder of the two Pirelli compounds for this weekend, the medium, with the quicker soft rubber being saved for session two.
Setting the pace: Lewis Hamilton was fastest after first practice
Setting the pace: Hamilton leaves the pits during the first practice session
RESULTS AFTER FIRST PRACTICE
Over the three years the race has
been staged in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have locked out
the front row of the grid between them – the latter claiming two poles
to the former's one.
After the opening 90 minutes today
Vettel was forced to settle for the third-quickest time, with the
25-year-old German finishing 0.765secs behind Hamilton, with everybody
else over a second down.
That included Ferrari's Fernando
Alonso, the only driver who can realistically stop Vettel from making it
three titles in a row as the duo go into the last three races separated
by 13 points.
With Ferrari experimenting with new
parts, Alonso was fourth, a fraction over a second off Hamilton's pace,
and a quarter of a second behind Vettel.
Red Bull's Mark Webber was the best of the rest, followed by Michael Schumacher in his Mercedes and Williams' Pastor Maldonado.
Meanwhile, Button believes Hamilton's impending exit from McLaren will be 'a big loss' to the team.
Big loss: Jenson Button says McLaren will miss Hamilton next season
Grosjean confident he'll be at Lotus next season
Romain Grosjean sees no reason why he will not be partnering Kimi Raikkonen for a second season at Lotus next year.
Earlier this week Lotus confirmed Raikkonen had signed a new one-year deal following a successful return to Formula One after two years competing in rallies and NASCAR.
Lotus, however, made no mention of French driver Grosjean, perhaps unsurprising given the errors he has made this year and penalties incurred.
After two races without incident, it may be Lotus are waiting until the end of the campaign to ensure Grosjean has learned lessons and they can again trust him for the future.
Grosjean, 26, is confident of his seat for 2013 as he said: “With the team we're happy together, they've put a lot of confidence and faith in me during a hard time.
'I'm showing them I'm working and improving and trying to sort out all the problems, whilst keeping my speed.
'But there is no reason that it goes bad for the future.'
Grosjean has confirmed Lotus kept him informed of Raikkonen's deal, and that it 'didn't come as a surprise'.
When Lotus will make an announcement with regard to his own position is open to question, with Grosjean adding: 'I've no idea, to be honest.
'(Team principal) Eric Boullier is better placed than me to answer that.'
Button has previously made it clear
he has enjoyed pitting his wits against a fellow world champion in
Hamilton these past three years, helping to make him a better driver.
Although there will be no second crown
for either man this season, a 24-point gap between the British duo
means Hamilton is set to leave for Mercedes with a 2-1 victory in their
inter-team rivalry based on total points at the end of the season.
Rising star Sergio Perez may have been
recruited as replacement, but the 32-year-old Button cannot help but
feel Hamilton's departure will be felt by the team.
'With Lewis leaving, obviously the team loses a very fast driver,' said Button.
a guy that's achieved a lot with the team, wins and obviously a world
championship – the last guy to win a world championship for the team.
'It is a big loss, but things change and you learn to move on and adapt. It's definitely not the end of two strong drivers at McLaren.'
Although Perez has acquitted himself well at Sauber over the last two years, the 22-year-old Mexican still remains an unknown quantity.
Perez has conjured three superb podiums this season but his results have otherwise been sporadic, and notably since he was announced as Hamilton's replacement he has failed to score a point in three races.
Assessing Perez's potential, Button added: 'I think Sergio will be fast, but I really don't know.
'He's obviously unknown in a McLaren because he's not there yet. But it's a great opportunity for Checo, and I'm sure he will take it with both hands.'
Hamilton, meanwhile, insists he has no regrets about joining Mercedes, who are currently on their worst run since returning to the sport at the start of 2010.
Like Perez, since Hamilton announced he was moving to the Brackley-based team on a three-year contract, they have also failed to pick up a point in the last three races.
When you consider that in the previous 52 races Mercedes had not scored in only four, it highlights just how much they have plumbed the depths.
Asked by Press Association Sport about Mercedes' run, Hamilton said: “I've been told about it.
'It makes me even more driven to help them score points, and no, I'm not thinking 'have I made right decision'
'I'm very happy with the decision I made. What is happening to them doesn't have any impact on that.
'People do sometimes lose their way. Even we (McLaren) have struggled in the past and not scored points.'
Appreciating the size of the task awaiting him at Mercedes when he officially joins on January 1, Hamilton said: 'I already knew how big it was going to be.
'I really thought about it long and hard, and I could see how big it was. Perhaps it's now growing.
'But as a task I'm really excited about it, excited to meet new people and to being in a different environment, and to mould myself into that environment.'