ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Romain Grosjean put Lotus on top of the timesheets in first practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Friday with newly-crowned four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel third fastest.
The Frenchman, comfortably faster than team mate Kimi Raikkonen who won last year’s race, lapped the Yas Marina circuit in the searing afternoon heat with a best time of one minute 44.241 seconds late in the session.
Lewis Hamilton, winner in 2011 and twice on pole at the circuit, was second quickest for Mercedes and just 0.192 slower than Grosjean.
Vettel was 0.258 off the pace on a slippery track that, with track temperatures hovering around 40 degrees, will be far cooler during the day-to-night race.
Raikkonen, who triggered speculation about his relationship with the team when he failed to appear for Thursday’s media activities at the circuit, finally turned up and was sixth fastest with a lap of 1:44.929.
Grosjean has beaten Raikkonen in the last two races and finished on the podium in the last three.
Vettel, who became the sport’s youngest quadruple champion when he won in India on Sunday, is chasing his seventh successive race victory to equal fellow-German Michael Schumacher’s 2004 streak.
That is the longest winning run of the modern era, with the record of nine set by Italian Alberto Ascari over the 1952 and 1953 seasons.
Red Bull have already clinched their fourth successive constructors’ title and the focus is now on whether anyone can stop Red Bull and their 26-year-old German winning the last three races of the year.
Vettel has won two of the four races held so far in Abu Dhabi, including 2010 when he clinched his first championship.
Australian Mark Webber, Vettel’s team mate, was fourth quickest with Nico Rosberg fifth for Mercedes in a session that started slowly and without a timed lap in the first half hour.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who had been the only man mathematically capable of making Vettel wait for the title in India, was 12th with Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa 17th.
Editing by Ed Osmond