Lewis Hamilton caps stellar season with victory in Abu Dhabi
Mercedes driver started in pole and went unchallenged to finish with a win
Lewis Hamilton driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W10 takes the chequered flag at the end of the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton won the final race of the Formula One season at Abu Dhabi with a dominant run from pole to the flag. Unchallenged, he pulled away from the field and concluded his sixth championship season with a controlled, flawless race for Mercedes.
Max Verstappen was in second for Red Bull, Charles Leclerc was third for Ferrari and his teammate Sebastian Vettel fifth. Red Bull’s Alexander Albon was in sixth, while Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas came back from 20th after an engine penalty to take fourth.
Leclerc was referred to the stewards before the start over a fuel irregularity, which was to be investigated after the race. The report referred to a “significant difference” between the amount of fuel in the car measured by the FIA before he left the pitlane and the amount Ferrari had declared beforehand.
In the overall championship, Verstappen finished third, one place ahead of Leclerc, who solidly beat his Ferrari teammate Vettel into fifth. Doing so is significant for Leclerc. The 22-year-old has two wins to Vettel’s one and consistently looked more comfortable and quicker. Vettel began the season with No 1 driver status but Leclerc has clearly earned at least parity with the German for next season.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was 10th, which was enough to pip Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who was 18th, by one point to secure sixth place in the championship.
Hamilton’s 250th grand prix was as untroubled a drive as he has enjoyed all season, perfectly managed in what was a decidedly lacklustre finish to the season. Having opened a gap he maintained it throughout in a one-stop strategy that enabled him to enjoy clean air and command throughout.
It was Hamilton’s 84th career win and his fifth in Abu Dhabi, where he is the most successful driver. He won 11 races in the season, far beyond his nearest rival, Bottas, who won four. Hamilton is seven F1 victories off Michael Schumacher’s record of 91.
For Mercedes, who started the season with an outstanding run of eight wins in the opening eight races and 10 from the first 12, closing strongly will have been hugely satisfying. They won five of the final six races.
Mercedes have enjoyed a superiority this year that was far from expected. Their 15 wins from 21 races was a remarkable strike rate similar to that of their early dominance of the turbo-hybrid era in 2014 and 2015. Ferrari, who had looked so strong in winter testing, found their car lacked downforce, grip and balance. They finish with three wins, as did Red Bull.
The victory was nonetheless another example of how well Mercedes have performed operationally. Hamilton and Bottas executed yet another flawless performance.
Hamilton held his lead from Verstappen through turn one but at turn 11 Leclerc charged past the Dutchman into second place. Hamilton was already flying with a 1.6-second gap by the end of the opening lap, promptly extended to three seconds within five laps.
He was in control through the opening third, with neither Verstappen nor Leclerc able tot stay with him. Verstappen appeared to have engine problems but kept in touch with Leclerc. Bottas was coming through the field impressively, despite the DRS being disabled on lap four owing to what was described as a technical issue. The Finn had made it to ninth by lap 12. Interestingly the absence of DRS on a track where overtaking is difficult did not prevent a series of passes through the field. It was reactivated on lap 18.
Ferrari opened the pit stops, double-stacking Leclerc and Vettel on lap 13 for the hard tyres. Hamilton remained comfortable on his tyres and stayed out, with over a 10-second lead. Verstappen came in on lap 26, covered off by Hamilton one lap later. He emerged having held his lead with ease and a seven-second gap in front of Leclerc and Verstappen, who was once more struggling with engine issues.
Verstappen was feisty despite his problems and in a bold move dived down the inside of turn eight, past Leclerc for second on lap 32. It was the high point of action on track.
Hamilton, serene, remained extending his lead in clean air, 15 seconds up on the field as the laps slowly ticked away. It was more than enough as he took the flag with over 16 seconds from Verstappen.
Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez was seventh with Lando Norris eighth for McLaren, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was ninth. – Guardian