Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Practice Day - Abu Dhabi, UAE

Russell and Kubica hit it off as drivers acquaint themselves with new teams at Abu Dhabi test

It was the same venue that brought down the curtain on the 2018 F1 season only a few days ago but it had a very different feel about it.

Two days of testing at the Yas Marina Circuit was about much more than testing the revised Pirelli tyre compounds for 2019, it was about many drivers getting acquainted with a new team, new working environment and, of course, a new car.

For Acronis partner team Williams, it was a first taste of the action for George Russell driving the FW41. He managed 42 laps of the circuit on the opening day, his best of 1m39.512s putting him tenth in the time sheets behind the man he handed over duties to in the afternoon, a certain Robert Kubica.

Of course, Kubica is no stranger to the Williams team and operational set-up, having acted as their test and reserve driver for the past season. Both drivers were back in action on Wednesday, Kubica driving in the morning before handing over to Russell to complete the test.

And it soon became apparent that the two drivers formed a close bond, one that that bodes well for the season to come.

“I am very pleased with how my first test with Williams has gone, overall it was very positive,” said Russell afterward. “The tyre test was very beneficial to the team, they have gathered some really good information, which provides a great idea going into the first test and races.

“Working with Robert during the test was great, he has so much engineering knowledge from his past experiences. I believe we can have a positive effect and push the team in the right direction to get more performance.”

Kubica was equally complimentary about his new teammate, but also stressed that there is much work to do in the months before the season once again kicks off in Melbourne, Australia in early March.

“Winter will be long, and we will prepare over this time ahead of the upcoming season. I am working well with George. He is very nice guy, and we have a good collaboration which is key for us and for the team. All in all, the test was good, and I am looking forward to 2019.”

It was also a new start for many other drivers. Lance Stroll immediately impressed for his new Force India outfit (not officially confirmed), setting the third quickest time in his new machine on Tuesday before repeating the feat on Wednesday. It seems he has settled quickly indeed.

Having ended his Ferrari career by grinding to a halt early in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen was back behind the wheel of a Sauber for the first time in 17 years on Tuesday, but it was a case of déjà vu late on, his C37 stopping on the circuit but only after he had completed a substantial 102 laps.

It was Raikkonen’s former Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel who topped the sheets on the opening day, his fastest time set on the 2018 hyper-soft compound, 0.419s faster than Valtteri Bottas running the 2019 ‘compound 5’ spec – the softest of the new rubber.

But of the Ferrari drivers running in Abu Dhabi, it was young Frenchman Charles Leclerc who stole the limelight on the final day. In topping the lap times, he finished an impressive 1.466 seconds clear of Red Bull new boy Pierre Gasly and also bettered Vettel’s Tuesday benchmark by almost four tenths. It was an impressive start indeed to life as a Ferrari driver.

Carlos Sainz also enjoyed a first taste of the action for McLaren, the Spaniard jumping to fifth fastest in the final hour.

As a gauge, Leclerc’s time was 1.7 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap of 1m34.794s. But testing times are almost never a true reflection, certainly over the last couple of days – 2019 tyre evaluation, aero tweaks and driver acclimatisation the real value of this new day at school.

Tuesday times

Wednesday times

Top Image: 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE. © Force India F1.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.