In keeping with FIA regulations that state the practice and qualifying sessions must be run under the same conditions as the race, the practice sessions were run in the late afternoon and early evening so as to simulate the transition between day and night.
The sessions were dominated by the McLaren team, with Lewis Hamilton spending most of his time on or near the very top of the timing sheets He set the early standard in the first session, producing a fastest lap of 1:43.939. Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen struggled initially, but eventually set the fastest time of the second session – 1:41.307, two-tenths of a second faster than team-mate Hamilton. – and retained his pace in the third.
At Ferrari, both Kimi Räikkönen and Giancarlo Fisichella struggled, spending most of the weekend at the bottom of the timing sheets, though a pair of last-minute one-lap charges by Räikkönen saved the team from total embarrassment. Fisichella was less than impressed with Yas Marina's underground pit exit, claiming it was both very difficult and dangerous, despite it remaining incident-free.
Robert Kubica stopped on the circuit halfway through the second practice session with a suspected engine failure. The Pole, down to the last of his eight racing engines, was running with a used engine at the time, thus preventing the need for him to take a grid penalty. Nick Heidfeld spent most of the sessions at the tail end – at one point unable to explain why he was over two seconds slower than Kubica – until his final runs in the last session, which elevated him into the top ten.
Like Ferrari, Renault struggled all weekend. Unlike Ferrari, neither Fernando Alonso or Romain Grosjean were able to do much about it, simply unable to find speed around the circuit. Alonso, however commented that the Yas Marina circuit was enjoyable, stating that there was always something to do.
Kamui Kobayashi continued to impress in what was only his second outing for Toyota, frequently out-pacing team-mate Jarno Trulli, and at one point setting the third-fastest lap time. However, Kobayashi's program for the weekend consisted mostly of doing dummy qualifying runs, while Trulli was focusing on pace over an extended period, meaning the difference between the two drivers was not as great as it appeared to be.
The Toro Rosso drivers continued their trend of being the very first out in the early sessions. Sébastien Buemi demonstrated that his pace in Japan and Brazil was no one-off, and he spent most of the practice sessions near the top of the timing sheets and was the first person to break the 1:40.000 barrier in the third practice session. Jaime Alguersuari was less receptive to the circuit than others and was over-shadowed by his team mate until a hydraulics problem sidelined him for the duration of the third session.
Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel also had strong sessions, hinting at a pace that would eventually show itself in qualifying. After Hamilton set a time a second faster than anyone else in the third session, it was Vettel who led the rest of the field in making up the gap, however both drivers would finish outside the top ten.
Williams' Nico Rosberg echoed Alonso's sentiments that he liked the circuit, stating that every corner was 'unique'. However, both he and team-mate Kazuki Nakajima had an inconsistent weekend, alternating between the bottom end of the top ten and running as low as fifteenth.
Force India's Adrian Sutil commented that he preferred Abu Dhabi over Marina Bay in Singapore as it was easier to see around the Yas Marina circuit. After being limited by brake problems early in the first session, he eventually took to the circuit. Like team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi, his occasional bursts of speed were soon overrun by the other drivers.
Jenson Button spent most of first practice exchanging blows with Hamilton, responding to each of Hamilton's fastest laps with one of his own. The trend continued into the third session with Button prevailing, setting a 1:40.625, two-thousandths of a second quicker than Hamilton. Rubens Barrichello had a relatively anonymous string of practice sessions, finishng within the top ten on each occasion, but never quite having the pace of his team-mate.
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