As part of its preparation for the 2012 season, Pirelli gave a new experimental version of the P Zero Yellow soft tire its debut today during the two free practice sessions at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has emerged quickest with a time of 1m39.586s, set during the second session using Pirelli’s current P Zero Yellow soft tire. Hamilton’s time is already close to last year’s pole position: 1m39.394s set by Sebastian Vettel.

Each driver was allocated an extra two sets of the experimental soft compound tire, for today only. This new tire, which sits in between the current soft and the current supersoft, set fastest time in free practice one with a benchmark of 1m40.263s thanks to McLaren driver Jenson Button. McLaren was on top for most of the session and seemed set for a one-two before Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber demoted Hamilton to third: all driving on the experimental tire.

This tire was used during both sessions, meaning that the teams had a total of five sets available throughout the day. The experimental tires will be returned tonight with the usual tire allocation for Saturday and Sunday applicable from now on.

The teams concentrated on the two tire compounds that will be used for the race for the last hour of free practice two on varying fuel loads, with the McLarens of Jenson Button and then Lewis Hamilton going fastest on the conventional P Zero Yellow.

The P Zero Yellow soft tire is expected to last for around 20 laps at the race, with the P Zero White medium tire lasting for around 30 laps – meaning that most drivers should stop two or three times on Sunday. There is around 1.2 seconds per lap difference in pace between the soft and the medium tires so far, with soft-soft-medium expected to be the default strategy.

With the Abu Dhabi race starting at dusk and finishing at nightfall, the two free practice sessions were held later than their usual times, allowing the drivers to accustom themselves to the changing light and track conditions.

Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “It’s too early to draw any detailed conclusions about the experimental soft tire, but we’ve gathered plenty of information and already we have seen that it’s got some very good speed, comfortably surpassing the times set in free practice last year. This new tire is designed to have a better thermal resistance towards blistering, which should lead to greater durability and a smaller performance gap between the compounds, but with similar pace. Tonight we will begin to analyze some of the data although there is still plenty of work ahead before we have the definitive compounds fixed for next year. In the meantime we’re looking forward to the race on Sunday: we’ve seen today that both Ferrari and especially McLaren have very consistent pace on the soft tire.”

Pirelli fact of the day:

The centerpiece of ‘Ferrari World’ – the theme park located next to the Yas Marina circuit – contains a rollercoaster that is designed to simulate the acceleration of a Formula One car. The ‘Formula Rossa’ ride accelerates from 0-149 mph in less than five seconds and 0-62 mph in less than two seconds. Passengers are subjected to a force of around 1.7G, which is slightly more than a driver will experience at the start of a grand prix, making it the world’s fastest rollercoaster.

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