Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas takes Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Finn beats team mate Lewis Hamilton into second in anti-climatic end to the season
Valtteri Bottas secured victory in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
Valtteri Bottas brought the 2017 Formula One season to a close with an untroubled win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He beat his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who has already claimed the world championship, into second. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was a distant third at the Yas Marina circuit in a race that was largely processional at the front and was an anti-climactic finale to a season that was for a long period absolutely gripping.
The victory, however, is of import to the Finn since his form has been lacklustre in the second half of the season and he badly needed to prove to Mercedes that they were right to re-sign him for next year. Out-qualified and outraced in recent races by Hamilton and having been beaten off the line and to the win from pole position at the last round in Brazil by Vettel, Bottas had a point to prove and he did so emphatically.
It is his third victory, having scored his maiden win at Sochi this season and followed it by taking the flag in Austria and concluded a very strong weekend for the Finn. His pole lap was one of his best, edging out Hamilton by two-tenths of a second and from the off he took advantage converting a good start to a strong victory.
Hamilton had said he wanted to finish the season strongly but after crashing in qualifying at Brazil and second place here, despite pushing his team-mate, he has been unable to close with the momentum of finishing with wins. He does, however, equal Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in being the only drivers to have scored points in every race in a world championship-winning year.
Going into the winter with the final victory of the season and in a dominant fashion is very much the front foot finish Bottas had been looking for. To make the case for a further contract with Mercedes he needed to up his game and his first win at Abu Dhabi will give both parties cause for optimism, especially given the strong challenge Ferrari and Vettel are expected to mount in 2018.
Mercedes, too, will be pleased with how strongly they have closed out the season with a one-two. The team had already secured their fourth constructors’ championship but proved here that their development of a car that has proved difficult to manage on occasion, has been strong to the end. They have every reason to be confident for 2018 having concluded the season with a performance that illustrated the strengths they carry forward – Vettel finished the race 19sec behind Bottas.
The Finn made a clean start and held his place into turn one, with Hamilton slotting in behind him. Bottas followed his pole and start with a solid opening, putting a one and half second lead on Hamilton within two laps.
Vettel in third could not stay with the Mercedes pair on a track where their power advantage was telling through the fast first and second sectors and was over four seconds back by lap seven but held a comfortable lead over Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in fourth.
Hamilton could stay with his team-mate, maintaining a gap of under two seconds, and the two traded fastest laps. However, as has been proved repeatedly this season, without a significant advantage in speed differential overtaking is exceptionally hard and he chose to maintain his station and bided his time until the only stops of the race.
Bottas came in on lap 22 and had managed to extend his lead to over a two second gap to Hamilton. The British driver stayed out for a further three laps but could not close enough and emerged on lap 25, 1.8sec behind his team-mate.
With the harder supersoft rubber, on which he had shown impressive speed over the weekend, Hamilton set off in pursuit of his team-mate and once again found the pace and had reached DRS range by lap 30. Bottas however responded, re-established a gap of just under two seconds and while Hamilton pushed again in the closing six laps, he still could not gain the speed advantage needed to pass and Bottas held the lead to the flag.
The battle for sixth place in the constructors’ championship between Renault, Toro Rosso and Haas, who were separated by six points, ended in Renault’s favour. Nico Hulkenberg’s sixth place was enough for the team to overtake Toro Rosso, who use a Renault engine, and claim sixth. A result which is likely to haver further ramifications, with the relationship between Toro Rosso and their engine manufacturer having deteriorated over the past three races. The team, who will be using Honda engines next season, have accused Renault of not supplying them with new parts and will likely have more to say on the subject in the wake of losing the place.
Red Bull’s Ricciardo suffered a hydraulic failure and retired on lap 22, a costly DNF for the Australian. Kimi Raikkonen was seven points behind him going into the race and his fourth was enough to take fourth place in the championship.
The second Red Bull of Max Verstappen was in fifth. Hulkenberg was sixth, with the two Force India’s of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon in seventh and eighth. Fernando Alonso brought the curtain down on McLaren’s unhappy relationship with Honda with a points finish in ninth and Felipe Massa closed his F1 career in 10th.