Well, the season went out with a fizzle rather than a bang in possibly the dullest race of the year! Maybe we should have called it a day in Bahrain last weekend?
Nonetheless, there were some interesting things to come from this race, and we had to settle that close run third place in the constructor’s championship.
Verstappen showed good pace all weekend and took pole position, from Bottas and Hamilton-returning from his bout of Covid 19.
Off the line, everyone got a good start and there was no change in the top eight, with Verstappen leading from the two Mercedes. Further back Ocon overtakes Gasly for ninth, the Ferrari’s trade of places with Vettel getting the better of Leclerc, as do the Alfa Romeos with Raikkonen passing Giovinazzi: the old guard proving they still have it. Magnussen is the mover of the moment gaining 3 positions up to seventeenth.
The opening section of the race sees a few one-on-one battles and overtakes: Gasly retaking Ocon-to see the grid positions re-established, Ricciardo passing Ocon, with the help of team orders, and Kyvat losing places to both Stroll and Gasly. Albon and Norris have a good battle, Albon’s faster Red Bull coming out on top for fourth position.
After starting from the back of the grid due to engine penalties, last weeks race winner Perez is making good progress through the pack when he suffers oil pressure problems and is forced to retire the car. A sad ending to a season where Perez has absolutely shone for the team; hopefully this is not his last time in an F1 car. Perez pulls over to the side of the track and a Virtual Safety Car period is declared. This limits the maximum speed the drivers are allowed to go, making it safer for the marshals dealing with the incident. This creates a flurry of pitstops as cars have to run at a slower pace. Drivers pitting under a VSC lose less time to their competitors out on track than if those competitors were out there running at full blast. With a long pit lane at Abu Dhabi, it is likely most will opt for a one-stop race. Consequently, almost all drivers dive in for that tyre change under the VSC. Those that stay out—most notably, Ricciardo, Vettel and Leclerc—gain track position over their rivals who pit, but will have to stop later on. A full safety car is then brought out to clear away Perez’s car, bunching the pack up.
From the restart, Verstappen reasserts his dominance on the race and begins extending his lead over Bottas. It is quite a lonely drive for the top four with reasonably large gaps forming between them. At one point it looks like third place man Hamilton may be catching Bottas, but nothing comes of it. Towards the end of the race Albon, in fourth place, definitely starts reeling Hamilton in, but ultimately runs out of laps to challenge for the position.
Further back, Ricciardo runs in fifth with Norris behind, the Mclaren not quite able to get the better of Ricciardo. But Norris can play a waiting game, knowing the Renault ahead must pit at some point. The two Ferraris now run seventh and eighth, but on the softer compound medium tyres Leclerc is unable to keep up a good pace and drops down the order before coming in to pit. Vettel is able to make his harder tyres last longer. Sainz and Vettel go head to head with the Mclaren coming out on top, others, however, struggle to pass Vettel and a train begins to form as they are held up behind the German. Stroll, for instance, spends most of the race staring at the back of the Ferrari, unable to pass it. Gasly on the other hand finds pace to overtake both Stroll and Vettel in another strong showing for the Frenchman. Ricciardo is the one who benefits from Vettel holding up the other drivers, and when he comes to pit there is a large gap behind seventh-place man Sainz for him to fall back into. For the Ferraris, though, it wasn’t a great end to a somewhat rubbish season. They had to try something different strategy-wise in a slow car at a track which has never suited the team. But, despite a good final race for the team, the pace simply isn’t in the car for Vettel, and with a pit stop he drops down the order. Both drivers finished out of the points in thirteenth and fourteenth, seeing Ferrari finish sixth in the constructor’s championship—their worst result for forty years.
An exciting end of the race for Ocon, who has been reeling in Stroll for several laps. The Renault driver is able to catch and overtake the Canadian on the last lap, underlining his strong performances seen at the end of this year. This means a double points finish for the Renault team—not enough for third in the championship but very promising for next year when we see Ocon paired with returning F1 legend Fernando Alonso.
Stroll didn’t seem to quite have the pace here he has shown at other races—being unable to pass Vettel, or fend off Gasly and later Ocon. He came in tenth with a single point for the Racing Point team. Which means the Mclaren boys, with another consistent and solid performance, brought home the third place in the constructors for Mclaren. With Norris finishing fifth and Sainz in sixth this meant eighteen points for the team and a seven-point win for Mclaren over Racing Point. To be honest, either team deserved the third place, but the consistency of Mclaren paid off in the end. Literally paid off—there’s millions of pounds at stake!
Up front, Verstappen took the chequered flag from Bottas and Hamilton in a race he dominated from start to finish. A deserved win from the man who seemed to have it all under control this weekend. The only fly in the ointment: a certain Daniel Ricciardo stealing his fastest lap at the close of the race. Perhaps it wasn’t the most exciting race or finale to an F1 season, but it was a deserved win for Verstappen, and a win by the Red Bull team on merit—perhaps a good indicator they can steal a few more victories from Mercedes in 2021.
Driver of the Day: Sainz
Honourable Mentions: Gasly, Ocon, Vettel, Ricciardo.
Abu Dhabi Race Results
- Ricciardo (Fastest Lap)
Well, that’s it for an exciting and eventful 2020. The season that almost never happened turned into a classic: records broken, debut winners, shock crashes, new circuits, double headers—we had all sorts!
What’s next? The provisional 2021 calendar is out with a record-breaking 23 races: the first one being in Melbourne on 21st March 2021.