Formula 1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel returned to his familiar place at the top of the times on the first morning of Pirelli tire testing in Abu Dhabi. The 23-year-old leaped to the top with half an hour to go, knocking Ferrari driver Felipe Massa off top spot.
Vettel's best time, a 1m40.816sec, was 1.5sec off his pole time for Sunday's race, although as this is the first time teams have been able to run the Pirelli development rubber, their focus is on understanding the tire rather than chasing lap times.
Renault's Robert Kubica was third fastest, less than 0.2sec off the pace and just under half a second ahead of Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese will hand over to new teammate Sergio Perez for this afternoon's running.
Gary Paffett, performing test duties for McLaren on both days in place of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, was fifth fastest. He also ran on the second day of the tire test, ensuring the team has the most up-to-date benchmark data to compare the new Pirellis to the Bridgestones used during the season. He completed the most laps – 49 – during the session.
Jaime Alguersuari set the seventh fastest time, 0.664sec slower than Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg. The Spaniard was the first driver to take to the track this morning, making him the first regular driver to experience the new rubber.
Williams spent much of the session completing tests designed to understand the difference the Pirelli rubber makes to the aerodynamic performance of the car, running to a strict top speed limit. This data will then be compared with the baseline data accumulated during the recent young driver test to better understand how the Pirellis change the car. Rubens Barrichello did set some quicker laps toward the end of the morning session and the team plans to concentrate more on the performance of the tires this afternoon.
Force India driver Adrian Sutil completed only 20 laps before an exhaust failure forced him to stop. The team is currently working to replace the exhaust system and will return to the track this afternoon, this time with test driver Paul di Resta at the wheel.
Virgin's Timo Glock was the fastest new team driver ahead of Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen and Pastor Maldonado, who is running on both days for HRT.
Given teams have yet to fine-tune their setups for the new rubber, and most will have focused on running mid levels of fuel, the lap times posted so far indicate that Pirelli's single-lap pace will be comparable to that of the Bridgestones.
There will be another three and a half hours of testing this afternoon.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m40.861s 34
2. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m40.913s 29
3. Robert Kubica Renault 1m41.032s 25
4. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m41.466s 33
5. Gary Paffett McLaren 1m41.588s 49
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m41.978s 40
7. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m42.642s 33
8. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m42.655s 44
9. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m42.859s 20
10. Timo Glock Virgin 1m45.057s 41
11. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m46.201s 42
12. Pastor Maldonado Hispania 1m46.534s 46