Hamilton faster than Rosberg in 1st 2 Abu Dhabi practices

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) " Lewis Hamilton warmed up for his bid to wrestle the Formula One title from Mercedes rival Nico Rosberg with the fastest time in the first two practice sessions Friday at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The defending champion, who is seeking a third straight title and fourth overall, overcame a minor scare when he lost control of the rear of his car in the first session then dealt with some balance issues on his wheels in the second.

He was .079 seconds quicker than Rosberg in the second practice after beating him by.374 seconds in the first.

It will be a welcome boost for Hamilton, who trails Rosberg by 12 points heading into Sunday's race.

"We're in a good position for tomorrow. Pole (position) is the goal for tomorrow," Hamilton said. "I haven't managed it at this track for a long time but I know I'm quick here, the car feels great and there's still some time in it."

But even if Hamilton wins the race, Rosberg needs only to finish third to be crowned champion for the first time.

Both have won nice races in a topsy-turvy season that started with Rosberg taking complete control after winning the first four races while Hamilton struggled with engine troubles. The title race then went in Hamilton's favor only for Rosberg to seize the initiative back.

"We underestimate the pressure these guys are under," Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. "Sometimes you have to allow the drivers to express their feelings and emotions. You don't want to streamline them too much."

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel was third best in the evening session " encouragingly only .269 behind Hamilton " but he had to go back to the Ferrari garage, saying over race radio that he suspected gearbox failure.

However, because the engine was being used for practice he will not incur a penalty for a gearbox change.

Ferrari's performance in the evening gave Vettel encouragement that the car can push Mercedes in Saturday's qualifying.

"Overall the car felt good and I think we should have good pace," Vettel said. "Hopefully tomorrow we'll have a similar feeling in qualifying and put the car where it belongs."

Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was third in the first practice and fourth in the second, where the Red Bull driver was troubled by some tire issues.

"We had a few issues with the car today which meant aborting the last run was the sensible thing to do," the 19-year-old Verstappen said. "Nothing is broken and there is nothing to worry about, just safe to stop early. The grip is always a bit difficult here."

The 2010 title, won dramatically by Vettel, and the 2014 title, won by Hamilton, also both went down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

"It's down to the last race. It's all coming up: the frustrations and the happy moments," said Wolff, praising the mental strength of his drivers. "I find it very remarkable how they've managed their relationship for the benefit of the team."

The race begins at 5 p.m. local time and ends with night falling on the desert track and temperatures still warm, but dropping with a late breeze.

"Adapting to that and knowing what to expect can be a challenge," Rosberg said. "But our car was working well in both conditions."

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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