Heikki Kovalainen was left encouraged by his pace in the opening practice sessions for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after setting the pace on the first day of F1 running at the new Yas Marina circuit.
The Finn, who is going into his final race with McLaren if paddock rumours are to be believed, emerged as the quickest driver following the two Friday sessions on a day when the Mercedes-powered team was strong throughout.
Kovalainen was nearly two-tenths of a second quicker than team-mate Lewis Hamilton and said he was happy with his day has panned out, having suffered from a brake issue during the morning.
We had a brake issue during first practice which we couldn't sort out during the session,” he said. “This afternoon, we got it sorted and were able to improve considerably, with both tyres working well. The circuit is cool – it's very smooth with good grip and the kerbs are nice. Turns two and three are not easy-flat, but, with the good balance of the car, they're fun.”
Kovalainen added that the long straight in Abu Dhabi – the longest in F1 – was ideal for the McLaren KERS system, which was giving a major boost to lap times.
“On the straight, KERS gives us an additional benefit,” he said. “We can use it for maximum performance and it's worth three-and-a-half to four tenths.”
Team-mate Hamilton set the pace during the opening session of the weekend before dropping behind Kovalainen in FP2, but the Briton was also happy with the day and the fact that the Woking-based outfit appears in good shape for the season finale.
“It looks like we might be quite competitive here – our long runs appear to be good, the car feels great and the track is great,” he said. “It's quite interesting coming from daylight into night time, you don't notice the difference through the twilight.
“They've done an incredible job here. It's a really nice circuit to drive – there are a lot of technical corners, where braking stability is important. It's a great track and I really enjoy driving it. The only bit I don't like is the tunnel – but it's a challenge! We'll have to see what happens tomorrow, because the track conditions are always changing, but we feel quite comfortable with the pace we have. Our car seems to behave quite well over the kerbs, we've got the balance feeling quite good today. Our car is probably driving better than it has all year – it's just been getting better and better.
“In a way, it's been an excellent year: it's a bit like a race when you start from the back of the field and fight back to the front – that's what our season has been like. And I'm extremely proud of everyone in our team, they've done a fantastic job all year and I'd like to finish on a high for all of them.”