For the first time this season a Red Bull started from pole thanks to Max Verstappen’s brilliant qualifying lap on Saturday. As the drivers lined up on the grid and the Middle Eastern sunset emerged on the horizon, the stage was set for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
On lights out, Verstappen pulled away well from pole with Valtteri Bottas once again snapping his rear end out of the first corner. Lewis Hamilton was lurking behind but was unable to capitalize on Bottas’ error and the momentum of the pack slowed, allowing Verstappen to pull away unchallenged.
Sebastian Vettel managed to sneak past his teammate Charles Leclerc, showing no mercy in his last race alongside the Monegasque at Ferrari.
Sergio Perez was making up places having started at the back of the grid due to penalties received for having an engine change. Unfortunately, his race ended abruptly on lap ten as his car lost power and the Mexican was forced to retire. Last week’s race winner was left frustrated after having to having to retire from his final race for Racing Point and what could also be his final appearance in Formula 1.
The safety car was released and the top three pitted to switch to the hard tyre, looking to stay back out on track till the end of the race. The pack was bunched up but as the race restarted on lap 14, Verstappen got away well and left the Mercedes’ behind.
Top Four Stalemate and Pit Lane Drama
As the race entered the middle stages, there wasn’t much action happening out front. Verstappen was continuously extending his lead with Mercedes seeming to have no answer to the Dutchman’s pace. Meanwhile Alex Albon was close enough behind Hamilton to prevent him from trying to pit again and go onto the quicker soft tyre. It was very much a stalemate.
Following Perez’s retirement, Racing Point were now watching third in the constructors slip away from them. All their hope was left on Lance Stroll who was stuck in ninth behind Vettel. Meanwhile both McLaren’s were ahead and were set to bring home enough points to give the team that all important third place.
However, there was drama from the pit lane as Racing Point Team Principle Otmar Szafnauer filed a complaint to the FIA against McLaren’s Carlos Sainz for ‘moving unnecessarily slow in the pit lane’.
He argued that this held Stroll up, resulting in him re-joining the track behind Vettel whom he was now stuck behind. The American-Romanian stated to SkyF1, “Look where Stroll is now, it’s changed the whole race and he (Sainz) is not allowed to do that”.
The FIA concluded their live investigation, stating that the incident would be thoroughly investigated after the race.
Verstappen came home to win under the lights of AbuDhabi after a composed drive and solid weekend performance. It was the first time the 23 year old had converted pole to victory since Brazil last year, marking a brilliant way to round off the season.
Albon was unable to put pressure on the Mercedes and came home fourth after a strong showing, giving Red Bull more reason to hire the British-Thai driver next season.
Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz came home in fifth and sixth to seal third in the constructors for McLaren after an incredible season for the British team. Racing Point had missed out and to rub salt into the wound, Esteban Ocon had managed to slip past Stroll on the final lap.
It was Kevin Magnussen’s final Formula 1 race and he signed off with some donuts as Sainz sung over the radio one last time for McLaren ahead of his move to Ferrari next season. As did Vettel for the Scuderia, singing the team's famous anthem before his move to Aston Martin Racing next year.
As Verstappen celebrated his win, the Mercedes duo were signing off from a record breaking season with some celebratory donuts of their own, fogging up the night’s sky with blooms of smoke. Red Bull may have won today’s battle but it was Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton who had once again won the war.