Hamilton keeps title favourites behind him

Abu Dhabi :McLaren`s Lewis Hamilton rattled the cage of Formula One`s three title favourites on Friday with the fastest time in practice for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Briton, the fourth contender who must win Sunday`s race to have any chance of winning the championship, lapped the floodlit Yas Marina circuit in one minute 40.888 seconds in a session that started in daylight and ended in darkness.

Red Bull`s Sebastian Vettel, the race winner last year, was fastest ahead of Hamilton in the opening session in 1:42.760 but traded places with the 2008 champion in the evening with the second best time of 1:41.145.

The 23-year-old German could become the sport`s youngest world champion on Sunday but will need to finish at least in the top two to do so. He is currently 15 adrift of Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton is 24 behind Alonso, with 25 points still up for grabs.

"I`m really, really happy," the Briton, who was reprimanded by stewards for cutting across Brazilian rookie Bruno Senna`s HRT to get into the pits, told reporters.

"We`ve been hopeful for some time now to improve this rear wing of ours, it`s not really been working since Suzuka and so we`ve not really been able to use it.

"We know that it`s got a little bit of potential and finally it`s working, so that`s a huge plus for us and the car`s feeling good today," added the Briton, who said he had been feeling slightly rundown and was on medication.

"I`m giving 120 percent," he added. "I think the car is generally quick...it`s still going to be tough, I think the Red Bulls are going to pull out half a second maybe in qualifying but we are closer than we have been, I reckon."

Championship leading Alonso, who will take his third title if he finishes in the top two regardless of who wins the race, was third quickest after lapping with the sixth best time in the afternoon.

Vettel`s team mate Mark Webber, second in the overall standings and eight points behind Alonso, was fourth in both sessions.

Webber, whose team won the constructors` title last weekend, said his car had a planned engine change between the sessions.

"It was the usual suspects up at the front on Friday and Fernando, Seb and I were pretty much on similar times," he said. "The car is close to what we had in Brazil. It`s hard to develop a car which is pretty solid already."

With the track doused by a rare desert rainstorm 90 minutes before the start of the first session, the practice times showed that that all the championship competitors were up to speed and closely matched.

Few cars ventured out on the track in the first half hour of the largely incident-free 90 minute session, with the surface still damp. Times improved significantly in the evening, with the only incident Jaime Alguersuari spinning off.

Bureau Report

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