Nico Rosberg expects Lewis Hamilton to hold the advantage in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix despite setting the pace in practice.
In a role-reversal of the opening session at the Yas Marina Circuit, in which Hamilton was fastest, Rosberg finished 0.138 seconds clear of his Mercedes team-mate.
But the German, who is bidding for his sixth consecutive pole position here and his third win on the bounce, fears he faces an uphill challenge because he is running an older engine than Hamilton.
Rosberg endured two engine failures in September’s Italian Grand Prix and, as such, has been forced to run his current power unit longer than would have been originally planned.
“It’s going to be difficult because I have an extremely old engine so I have a lot of miles on it and that’s costing me straight-line speed,” said Rosberg, who won in Mexico and Brazil to secure second in the championship ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
“This track is an engine track, and it was already difficult in Brazil and the race before that, but now on the straights it will cost me in lap time. It’s going to be a difficult weekend as a result, but I’ll just have to be quicker in the corners.”
Hamilton sealed his third championship in Austin last month, but has subsequently seen his team-mate win consecutive races.
While opening practice, which Hamilton ended on top of the timesheets, took place in the intense Abu Dhabi heat, the day’s second session will be more representative of qualifying and race conditions.
Rosberg may have felt he holds the upper hand over his world championship-winning team-mate on Friday night. But the German said: “It has been a good start to the weekend, even though Lewis did not show his pace on one lap.
“It is clear that he still has some in reserve. Today is not the real picture.”
Hamilton, chasing a hat-trick of victories in Abu Dhabi, added: “I feel good. I made some changes to the car which so far have been relatively good.
“I might make some more tweaks tonight. It’s very hard to overtake here, so like a majority of the tracks it’s important to be on pole, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win.”
With both driver and team championships having long since been decided, the anxiety which surrounded this race in the desert last year, where Hamilton beat Rosberg to the title, is somewhat lacking.
Indeed Vettel spent the opening moments of the second practice session singing an Italian rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to his engineer Ricardo Adami from inside his crash helmet.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz stopped on track at turn seven with technical gremlins in a session which afforded little excitement for the sparse crowd who had gathered for the season-ending grand prix.
Away from the track, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner confirmed his team would remain on the Formula One grid next year after agreeing an engine deal.
Although Horner did not elaborate on the specifics of the contract, it is expected Red Bull will now see out the final year of their deal with Renault.
The French manufacturer however, whose future in the sport is uncertain, has put off an announcement over its whereabouts for 2016 and beyond until next week.
Renault has long been linked with a buy-out of cash-strapped Lotus, but a deal is yet to be ratified.