Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel on his way to the fastest lap time in the first free practice at Yas Marina for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Picture: Luca Bruno / AP

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel set the pace in opening practice for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday with Lewis Hamilton second fastest for Formula One champion Mercedes.

The opening session, in the afternoon heat, is largely unrepresentative of the rest of the weekend with Sunday’s race starting in the evening and ending after dark and under floodlights.

Vettel, second in a championship already won by Hamilton two races ago, lapped the Yas Marina layout with a best time of 1m39.006s on ultrasoft tyres. Hamilton’s best was a 1m39.126s. Both Hamilton and Vettel are three times winners in Abu Dhabi, although Ferrari have yet to triumph there.

Red Bull’s 20-year-old Dutch driver Max Verstappen was a scant 0.28s slower than Hamilton, fuelling hopes that the finale could be a three-way battle at least, and ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton is chasing his 10th win of the season while Vettel, winner in Brazil two weeks ago, is aiming to end the year with a sixth success.

British youngster George Russell, taking part in first practice only, was 11th fastest in Esteban Ocon’s Force India and less than a second off the pace of the team’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez. Russell also took part in first practice in Brazil, and looks set for a reserve role in future.

With both championships wrapped up, Mercedes having clinched its fourth consecutive Constructors’ title in Texas in October, most teams used the session as an early test for 2018. Some also tried out the ‘halo’ head protection device that will be introduced next year.

RESULTS

1 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari - 1m39.006

2 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes - 1:39.126

3 Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull - 1:39.154

4 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari - 1:39.518

5 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes - 1:39.741

6 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India - 1:40.293

7 Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren - 1:40.522

8 Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium) McLaren - 1:40.569

9 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams-Mercedes - 1:40.723

10 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull - 1:40.773

11 George Russell (Britain) Force India - 1:41.131

12 Romain Grosjean (France) Haas - 1:41.306

13 Lance Stroll (Canada) Williams - 1:41.581

14 Pierre Gasly (France) Toro Rosso - 1:41.646

15 Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Renault - 1:41.748

16 Pascal Wehrlein (Germany) Sauber - 1:41.752

17 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Renault - 1:41.864

18 Antonio Giovinazzi (Italy) Haas - 1:42.065

19 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber - 1:42.344

20 Brendon Hartley (New Zealand) Toro Rosso - 1:42.585