F1: Max Verstappen justifies favourite’s tag with quickest time in Friday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix practice

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Max Verstappen underpinned his status as the overwhelming favourite to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by cruising to the top of the timesheets in Friday practice.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell led the morning session as a variety of young drivers were given seats to experience an F1 practice run.

But Verstappen was back in the Red Bull as the sun set on Yas Marina circuit, with the conditions alone making second practice far more representative for Sunday’s race.

A year on from taking his maiden title at this track, where Hamilton was denied a record eighth crown, the Dutch driver set the pace under the lights of the Yas Marina Circuit.

Verstappen, who has won 14 of the 21 races staged so far on his unstoppable gallop to championship number two, finished ahead of Russell by more than three tenths of a second, with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc third. Hamilton finished fourth.

Hamilton, who has tried to erase the memory of his championship defeat here last year, is facing the prospect of ending a season without recording a victory for the first time in his career.

And his deficit of six-tenths to Verstappen, at a track which is predicted to suit the Red Bull’s machinery, suggests Hamilton's unique record will come to an end here this weekend.

Perez, who enters the final round in Abu Dhabi level on points with Leclerc, finished fifth, one spot above Carlos Sainz.

Sebastian Vettel will take part in his 299th and final grand prix on Sunday ahead of his retirement from the sport. The four-time world champion was 12th in his Aston Martin.

Daniel Ricciardo, who also will not be on the grid in 2023 after he was dumped by McLaren, took ninth, two places ahead of his teammate Lando Norris.

Additional reporting by PA.