Some driver market news: as was very widely expected, Hulkenberg's gone from Force India to Sauber. Kobayashi's fate remains uncertain, but the mood music is a bit glum.
Toro Rosso, having rather discourteously fired both Buemi and Alguersuari last season so late they had no hope of finding another drive, has decided to keep both newcomers Vergne and Ricciardo. Hard to assess how good they've been as both are new drivers (Ricciardo drove a few races last year in an HRT, but still).
No word yet on Williams, but it seems likely Maldonado will remain, Senna will be tossed overboard and Bottas may well get his seat.
The tyres this time are soft and medium. Suggestion is that one and two stops are equal in terms of time, but that two stops will be preferred because it's more flexible.
In the first qualifying session it was a McLaren 1-2, with Hamilton fastest and Button second, followed by Vettel, Alonso and Webber. Schumacher was sixth, and next came Maldonado, Rosberg, Bottas, and Raikkonen.
The second session had Vettel fastest, followed by Hamilton, Button and Webber. Grosjean and Raikkonen were fifth and sixth, ahead of Alonso, Massa, Maldonado and Perez. Mercedes and Force India will be disappointed to be outside the top 10 there.
After P2 the BBC's Andrew Benson tweeted some info which may be of interest:
Long-run pace, fastest laps first: ALO 1:47.074; BUT 1:47.432; HAM 1:47.557 (all soft tyre); VET 1:47.636 (medium) 1:47.896 (soft)
Long-run pace averages: ALO 1:47.193; BUT 1:48.114; MAS 1:48.153; HAM 1:48.296; VET 1:48.359. Obviously that ALO time is anomalous
Cannot believe the Alonso average is representative, but the fastest lap was better than all others, so in race trim the Ferrari might be the fastest. However, if he qualifies 7th (behind Red Bulls, McLarens and Lotuses, as seems possible) then he'll have a hard time in Abu Dhabi making it work. One possibility could be for him to use a one stop strategy rather than a two stop. If he's as low down as 7th on the grid then that might well be his best option.
The mood music from Vettel in an interview and Eddie Jordan during Inside F1, however, both point to McLaren being top dog on race pace (albeit likely still behind Red Bull in qualifying).
In P3 Vettel only did a few installation laps and then got out with four and a half minutes of the session left. Hamilton dominated the session, especially on the prime tyre, and was fastest, with Button second. Vettel, despite only having a couple of hot laps, was third, Webber fourth and Hulkenberg was impressive in fifth. Grosjean was sixth, and Maldonado, Alonso, Raikkonen and Di Resta round out the top 10.
Ominous for Alonso, but at the same time if McLaren can beat Vettel in qualifying the Red Bull might go backwards and the prancing horse forwards. I think it's immensely hard to tell whether Hamilton or Vettel will end up on pole.
Annoyingly the two bets that tempted me most, Hulkenberg to reach Q3 and Button to be top 3, both had little cash and short odds available. Judging between Vettel and Hamilton for pole is nigh on impossible. In earlier sessions he was around 0.5-0.7s faster than Webber, which would put him just ahead or just behind Hamilton's P3 time. The Red Bull's also much better at getting its soft tyres switched on (but the McLaren looks very good on the mediums).
I had hoped to bet on qualifying, but with Vettel's serious lack of running and the poor odds on the other potential bets I've decided against it.