Esteban Ocon confirmed as Mercedes reserve driver for 2019

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Esteban Ocon has been confirmed as Mercedes reserve driver for next season.

The Frenchman, 22, will be without a race seat in 2019, with Lance Stroll to replace him at Force India after his fashion billionaire father, Lawrence, bought the team.

Ocon is a member of Mercedes’ junior programme, and will hope his season as an understudy to Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will help him return to the grid in 2020.

Bottas, who heads into the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi on Sunday without a win, is out of contract with the Silver Arrows at the end of next season.

“We hope to do the odd test with Esteban next year,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said on Friday.

“He will spend a lot of time in the simulator and be ready for 2020.”

Ocon courted controversy at the last race in Brazil after he collided with leader Max Verstappen. Verstappen responded by shoving Ocon in the chest three times.

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Valtteri Bottas edges out Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi FP2

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Valtteri Bottas topped the charts as Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton was fourth fastest in second practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

With his fifth title already safely secured, Hamilton, 33, is hoping to sign off with his 11th victory of a remarkable year.

But the Mercedes star finished 0.207 seconds slower than Bottas in the final running of the day at the Yas Marina circuit.

Hamilton, sporting a gold crash helmet and number one on his car this weekend to celebrate his latest championship success, faced a summons to the stewards after crossing the white line as he entered the pits.

The British driver is likely to be handed only a reprimand.

Bottas is searching for his first victory of an inauspicious campaign. The Finn finished four hundredths ahead of Max Verstappen in the early-evening dark.

Daniel Ricciardo, taking part in his 100th and final race for Red Bull before he moves to Renault next season, finished third.

Ferrari, looking to banish memories of their late-season collapse which allowed Hamilton to sew up the title more easily than he might have expected, occupied fifth and sixth places on the time sheets.

Kimi Raikkonen, whose long association with the Italian team will end with Sunday’s race, held a slim advantage over Sebastian Vettel.

Fernando Alonso will bring down the curtain on the second longest career in Formula One under no illusions that he can add to his 32 victories.

It is more likely that the two-time world champion will be squabbling for the minor points come Sunday, his 312th and final start.

Here, he finished 13th for McLaren, 1.5 sec off the pace.

In first practice earlier in the day, Verstappen set the pace as Red Bull continue to end the season with a surge of form.

Verstappen, who was unlucky not to win when taken out while leading the Brazilian Grand Prix a fortnight ago, led Ricciardo in a Red Bull one-two.

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Max Verstappen tops opening practice in Abu Dhabi

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Max Verstappen led Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in opening practice for the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Dutchman finished 0.454 seconds clear of Ricciardo at the sun-drenched Yas Marina circuit, with the Mercedes pair of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton third and fourth respectively.

Hamilton, who is sporting a gold crash helmet this weekend, and the number one on his Mercedes to celebrate his fifth world championship, finished one second off the pace.

The Formula One circus is in the Middle East this weekend for the final stop of the 21-race calendar.

Hamilton, 33, sealed the title with two rounds to spare, and asked permission to change the number 44 on his Silver Arrows to number 1.

It marks the first time the number, traditionally reserved for the world champion, has been on the grid in four years.

The world champion was significantly slower than the Red Bull of Verstappen in the opening running, but the second practice session which takes place later on Friday will be more representative of the conditions for qualifying on Saturday, and the race, too.

Indeed, Sebastian Vettel finished a distant eighth for Ferrari, two seconds down on Verstappen, with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, taking part in his final race for Ferrari, one place better off.

Fernando Alonso will bring the curtain down on his F1 career here on Sunday after 17 years, and the double world champion finished 19th of the 20 runners, nearly four seconds off the pace.

Robert Kubica, confirmed as a Williams driver for next season to complete his remarkable comeback from an horrific rally crash almost eight years ago, finished last.

The crash-prone Marcus Ericsson was in the wars again after he lost control of his Sauber on the exit of Turn 1, and slid across the track and into the barriers. He limped back to the pits with a damaged front wing.

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