Button on top in Abu Dhabi practice

Updated: Nov 11, 2011, 19:09 PM IST

Abu Dhabi: Jenson Button set the pace in first practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday as Sebastian Vettel made a quiet return to the circuit where he became Formula One`s youngest champion last year.

Now a double title holder, Red Bull`s 24-year-old German Vettel lapped fourth fastest and nearly half a second slower than McLaren`s Button.

Vettel`s Australian team mate Mark Webber was second on the Yas Marina timing screens, 0.126 slower than Button`s best of 1:40.263, denying McLaren a one-two with fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton third.

The Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, who both spun off, were fifth and sixth respectively on a bright afternoon with the track temperature hovering around 40 degrees.

Some less familiar names also enjoyed a moment in the limelight, with Robert Wickens the first Canadian to appear on track in a grand prix weekend since 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve departed the scene in 2006.

While Wickens replaced Belgian Jerome d`Ambrosio at Virgin Racing for the first session, Frenchmen Jean-Eric Vergne and Romain Grosjean took the wheel at Toro Rosso and Renault respectively.

Wickens was 23rd out of the 24, half a second slower than team mate Timo Glock but ahead of Rubens Barrichello who failed to set a time after a problem halted his Williams.

Vergne was 11th on the timesheets, right up with Toro Rosso`s regular race driver Jaime Alguersuari, while GP2 champion Grosjean marked his return to the F1 cockpit with a time quicker than Renault`s Vitaly Petrov.

Vettel and Red Bull have already clinched this year`s championships but the German can still claim some Formula One records.

If the champion takes pole position on Saturday he will equal the record of 14 in a single season set by Britain`s Nigel Mansell in 1992.

If Vettel wins the penultimate race of the year on Sunday, he will remain on track to equal Michael Schumacher`s unprecedented tally of 13 triumphs in a season.

The German said, however, that he was not thinking about such milestones.

"It will be wrong to say that I want to beat this record or that record if it is possible," he told reporters. "Then, you are thinking of the record and how to break the record. And I think you will fail if you think that way."

Bureau Report