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Verstappen lays down benchmark in opening practice ahead of title showdown

The Dutchman lapped the revised 5.2-km long Yas Marina track in 1 minute and 25.009 seconds - 0.196 seconds quicker than the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas with Hamilton third.

By: Reuters |
December 10, 2021 6:35:38 pm
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands stands during practice for the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the early pace ahead of his Formula 1 title showdown with Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton by going fastest in Friday’s (Dec 10) opening practice for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Dutchman lapped the revised 5.2-km long Yas Marina track in 1 minute and 25.009 seconds – 0.196 seconds quicker than the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas with Hamilton third.

Hamilton had initially set a lap that was less than half-a-tenth slower than Verstappen’s benchmark, and the pair looked set to end the first hour of practice neck and neck.

But that time was deleted as the Briton was found to have exceeded track limits, with the 36-year-old’s next best effort – 0.346 seconds adrift of Verstappen – counting as his fastest of the session.

Verstappen and Hamilton head into Sunday’s race, a winner-takes-all showdown, absolutely level on points, with the Dutchman ahead 9-8 on wins.

Sunday evening could see either Verstappen celebrating a maiden title or Hamilton, already the most successful driver in Formula 1 history, moving into a league of his own with an unprecedented eighth.

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