Hamilton faster than Rosberg in 1st 2 Abu Dhabi practices

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the first free practice at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca Bruno/AP

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. Even if Hamilton wins it, Rosberg needs only to finish third to be crowned champion for the first time.

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

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

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

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

In what is expected to be his final GP, British driver Jenson Button drove with a bright yellow helmet similar to the one he wore during his F1 title-winning campaign with Brawn in 2009.

Although Button has an option with McLaren for the 2018 season, he said Thursday he does not expect to race again. Felipe Massa, who drives for Williams, is retiring after this race. Both started their F1 careers when they were 20.