CLICK: Full GP2 practice results from Abu Dhabi
The GP2 championship might have been signed and sealed by Jolyon Palmer last time out at Sochi, but Stoffel Vandoorne proved that he was thoroughly committed to the battle for second place in the feeder series as he pushed himself to the top of the times the final GP2 Series practice of 2014.
The 45-minute morning session opened with virtually the entire field streaming out of pit lane eager to get to work on the 3.451-mile, 21-turn state of the art Yas Marina Circuit. The first representative time was 1:51.867s from Trident's Johnny Ceotto Jr. putting him 0.133s clear of Russian Time's Mitch Evans, with Carlin's Felipe Nasr third fastest despite having locked up and run wide on his warm-up lap which showed how determined he was in his bid to lock up the runners-up position in the drivers championship ahead of his move next year to Sauber F1.
Raffaele Marciello - who will start tomorrow's feature race with a five-place grid penalty held over from the last round at Sochi - briefly went top with a time of 1:51.697s and his team mate Stefano Coletti slotted into third before Cecotto sprang out of the Racing Engineering sandwich he briefly found himself to go top again, just before a flurry of improved times saw newly crowned 2014 GP2 Series champion Jolyon Palmer go fastest with a lap of 1:51.099s in the DAMS and Nasr into second ahead of Campos Racing's Arthur Pic as Cecotto was shuffled down to fourth.
Nasr's rival for the runners-up position Stoffel Vandoorne wasn't about to let the Brazilian out of his sights for long, and the McLaren Young Driver was next to go top with a time of 1:50.807s. That put him 0.050s ahead of Pic's next improved effort before he then ran wide on the next lap which meant that he joined Palmer and the majority of the others in making his way back to pit lane, for a conference with the ART team and some early set-up tweaks.
Palmer returned to the fray and reclaimed the top of the timing screens by just under half a tenth with a lap of 1:50.760s just after the halfway point of the session. His team mate Stephane Richelmi significantly improved on that to go fastest with a lap of 1:50.512s to show there was still some more pace to be found on the medium compound tyres. Vandoorne was duly able to tap into that and went quickest with his next lap of 1:50.437s, now significantly faster than Nasr who was down in 11th place over three quarters of a second behind going into the final ten minutes.
Nasr was able to improve his standing with his final flying lap of 1:50.911s to go sixth and cut the deficit to Vandoorne to a more respectable 0.474s, but there were few other improvements although Arthur Pic was able to consistently shave hundredths off his time to slip into third place on the timesheets between the two DAMS cars of Richelmi and Palmer.
Cecotto finished the session in fifth just ahead of Nasr,with the remainder of the top ten occupied by Marciello, Caterham's Pierre Gasly, Coletti and Evans. Just outside when the chequered flag came out were Kimiya Sato (Campos Racing), Marco Sørensen (MP Motorsport), Nathanael Berthon (Venezuela GP Lazarus) and Rio Haryanto (Caterham).
Canada's Nicholas Latifi was 22nd fastest at the end of practice as he prepares to make his GP2 debut for Hilmer Motorsport in place of Daniel Abt, who is in Malaysia this weekend competing in the Formula E Series. Latifi was just ahead of Conor Daly, who after missing the last two races at Monza and Sochi is back in action this weekend for Venezuela GP Lazarus. The American ended his session a few minutes early stalled in an access road after apparently losing drive.
With Adrian Quaife-Hobbs again unavailable to drive for Rapax this weekend, former Lazarus driver Kevin Giovesi took over the #14 car (which had been piloted by Tio Ellinas at Sochi) and was 24th fastest putting him just ahead of Hilmer's Jon Lancaster and his own team mate Simon Trummer, both of whom got limited practice runs.
Qualifying will take place later today under the floodlights at 7.10pm local time (3.10pm GMT), with the 31-lap feature race on Saturday also taking place after dark at 6.40pm (2.40pm GMT), the first feeder series race ever to be staged under floodlights. Sunday's 22-lap sprint race will be held in the daylight, starting at 2.20pm (10.20am GMT).
The GP3 season finale is also taking place at Abu Dhabi this weekend, with qualifying moving to Friday at 3.10pm (11.10am GMT) and the first 14-lap race getting underway on Saturday afternoon at 12.05pm (8.05am GMT). The final GP3 race of the year will be on Sunday at 1pm (9am GMT).
See full GP2 practice results from Abu Dhabi