Fresh from its first win of the season in Brazil last weekend, Mercedes arrived in Abu Dhabi looking to close out the campaign on a high and fight at the front once again.
Verstappen ended the session three tenths of a second clear of Russell at the head of the timesheets, while Hamilton was a further two tenths of a second back in fourth place.
Russell felt it had been a “very strong day” for Mercedes, having run a number of test items on his car in FP1 to help development for 2023, but believed Red Bull just had the edge in terms of pace.
“It felt fast out there, but I think Red Bull just had the legs on us,” said Russell.
“Single lap, probably two tenths ahead, long run maybe even further. We’ve got a little bit of work to do overnight, but compared to Ferrari, [we] looked reasonable.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
Russell pointed to the strengths of Red Bull’s RB18 car in a straight line and out of the low-speed corners as being ideally suited to the characteristics of the track in Abu Dhabi.
“Race run, as I said, [we’re] a little bit behind Red Bull,” he said.
“We know they’ve got a really slippery car down the straight, very efficient, and on a circuit like this with two long straights and lots of slow speed corners, this kind of suits them down to a tee.
“So [I’m] pleased we’re much closer than we were say at Spa, where it’s not too dissimilar to this.”
Hamilton echoed Russell’s thoughts at the end of the day, believing Mercedes was quick but still slightly trailing the Red Bull package, conceding that his race run “wasn’t very good, but I don’t know where it stands compared to the others.”
He added: “The Red Bulls look a bit quicker here, which was expected,” said the seven-time world champion.
“We didn’t expect this to be our strongest race. But we’ll work hard overnight. We’re generally right there, so hopefully we can put up a good fight.”