Abu Dhabi GP: Leclerc fastest as Sainz, Hulkenberg crashes cause lengthy red flags

Henry Valantine
Charles Leclerc at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc topped FP2 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc went fastest in a heavily interrupted Abu Dhabi Grand Prix FP2 session after Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz had a hefty crash early in the session.

A sizeable impact at Turn 3 caused a 25-minute stoppage, before a further crash for Nico Hulkenberg caused further delays to the action as only around half of the free practice hour was filled with meaningful running.

Lando Norris and Max Verstappen were pipped to top spot in FP2, with Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez rounding out the top five on Friday.

After 10 rookies were behind the wheel in FP1, normal service was resumed for FP2 as the regular race drivers took their normal seats again.

But the red flag was out within 10 minutes for Carlos Sainz, who had taken part in the first session, as he flew through Turn 2 at full throttle and up to Turn 3, losing traction completely and colliding with the Tecpro barrier at high speed.

He climbed out of the car and reported that “dirty air from the car [in front] gave me a massive snap [of oversteer], the dirty air and the bump, I think” was the cause of the crash.

A far from ideal Friday for Sainz given the huge repair job his team had in FP1 last weekend in Las Vegas, although that particular incident was through no fault of his own.

Initial lap times were on the board, but a lengthy delay was set to take place while his SF-23 was recovered and the barriers were repaired, with Sainz’s sidepods, rear wing and front wing all significantly damaged in the impact.

The stoppage totalled more than 25 minutes in the end while the necessary measures took place to get the session ready to go again, which naturally led to a big queue in the pit lane for the drivers to get out and salvage what they could of FP2.

With the conditions being representative of the day/night race in Abu Dhabi, FP2 is often critical at Yas Marina to set the cars up as they are the only representative practice conditions of the weekend.

Only a couple of minutes went by however before the red flag was out again, this time for Nico Hulkenberg.

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The Haas driver lost control of the rear end of his car coming through Turn 1 and spun around, with his rear wing colliding with the inside wall and the red flag required to get a recovery vehicle on track to lift the Haas clear.

Mercifully, the delay this time was only around six minutes – though this meant half the FP2 session had been lost to red flags, leading to another scrum to get out of the pit lane.

Most drivers opted to go straight onto medium tyres by this point, going onto long run simulations with the remaining time of the session to optimise what they could of their race setup in representative conditions.

Such was Verstappen’s urge to get out on track, he overtook both Mercedes drivers and Pierre Gasly through the pit exit in Abu Dhabi, jinking around all three of them in his rush to get out there.

Some drivers did look for qualifying simulations, though, with one-lap pace often crucial around Yas Marina – as pole position has won the race in each of the last eight visits to Abu Dhabi, despite the circuit layout changes that have increased overtaking.

Verstappen reported his car “jumping like a kangaroo” while on his exploratory laps in the final part of FP2, with only limited running available in the session.

It was a condensed run to the line in the final part of the session, and Verstappen clocked a time fast enough for third when he crossed the line, but faster times were coming in right up to the end of FP2 in an unusual session.

But Leclerc was able to hold onto top spot by a small margin from Norris come session’s end, with only half of the running the drivers would normally get in a standard FP2 hour in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023: FP2 classification

1 Charles LECLERC Ferrari 1:24.809
2 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.043
3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull +0.173
4 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.215
5 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.303
6 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.313
7 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.414
8 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.506
9 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.512
10 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.552
11 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.588
12 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +0.658
13 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.683
14 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.757
15 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.860
16 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.272
17 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.604
18 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.850
19 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +1.898
20 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +2.338

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