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Russell tops Abu Dhabi practice as rookie Drugovich shines

Charles Leclerc topped the times for Ferrari ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris on Friday in a crash-hit second practice session for this weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

World champion Max Verstappen was unable to improve on third as he wound up 0.173 seconds adrift of the Monegasque driver who outpaced Norris by only 0.043 seconds.

The action was reduced severely by two red flag interruptions following crashes by Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg of Haas.

Both caused delays, a lengthy one for barrier repairs after Sainz’s collision, but both drivers were unhurt.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth for Alfa Romeo, in the marque’s last Grand Prix weekend, ahead of Sergio Perez, in the second Red Bull, Mercedes’ George Russell and Zhou Guanyu in the second Alfa Romeo.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was eighth in the second Mercedes ahead of Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren.

Fernando Alonso was 11th for Aston Martin.

After a bright, sunlit day at the Yas Marina Circuit, the session began shortly before dusk with Hulkenberg leading the pack out of the pit lane, most of the established drivers keen for action after missing the opening session when 10 rookies took their places.

Kevin Magnussen set the early pace for Haas before Russell, who was quickest in the earlier session, went top –- and Sainz crashed, smacking into the barriers at Turn Three after having a big snap of oversteer in his Ferrari.

Sainz reported that he had been caught in “dirty air” from another car as the session was red flagged after only nine minutes.

The action resumed after a further 27 minutes, a long enough period for the sun to set and for the floodlights to be required.

For Sainz, it was a reprise of his woe in Las Vegas as his car was returned to the Ferrari garage, but noteworthy too as it came after a field including 10 rookies had run in first practice without mishap.

When the session restarted, it was for only 90 seconds as Hulkenberg lost control at Turn One and spun into the barriers.

“Lost it. Exit of Turn One,” he told the Haas team as a second red flag brought the action to a halt.

The session resumed, again, after a further nine minutes, with the cars battling for space in the pit-lane exit, creating frustration and annoyance.

In one incident, Verstappen was seen almost colliding with Hamilton as he attempted to force his way past him in the narrow tunnel.

With 12 minutes remaining, Norris was first to set a lap time. He was soon outpaced by Piastri, Bottas and then Leclerc in 1:24.809, as the drivers familiarised themselves with the conditions.

“The car is jumping like a kangaroo,” said Verstappen who was in 11th, two places ahead of Red Bull team-mate Perez, before many drivers including the champion began switching from medium-compound tyres to softs.

On his first ‘softs’ run, Verstappen rose to third behind Leclerc and Norris, raising hopes of some real competition for Red Bull this weekend as the 26-year-old Dutchman seeks to claim a record-increasing 19th win of the season.

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