Hamilton’s Abu Dhabi victory puts his stamp on the 2018 season as former teammate Fernando Alonso calls it a career.
At lights out, Lewis Hamilton successfully jumped Valtteri Bottas to take the lead into Turn 1 as the Ferrari line of Sebastian Vettel, and Kimi Raikkonen held firm just behind.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was caught out by Sauber’s Charles Leclerc just as Max Verstappen for once had terrible engine lag and dropped from fifth to tenth in a millisecond as the pack swarmed past in what might have been a bit of luck.
Not far ahead, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was dicing with Haas’ Romain Grosjean into the turn eight-nine chicane. Hulkenberg first tried to pass on the inside of turn eight, but could only make it to Grosjean’s left flank. As the duo entered Turn 9, Hulkenberg attempted another pass on the outside, but the German’s right-rear caught Grosjean’s front-left wheel sending the Renault barrel-rolling into the barrier and landed upside down.
In a frightening moment, Hulkenberg was prevented from extracting himself due to Renault’s halo as a flickering flame emerged from beneath the bodywork. Audio caught Hulkenberg screaming “Fire, there’s fire!
Thankfully, the marshals on the scene reacted quickly to prevent the flames getting out of hand and then turned the wrecked Renault upright, allowing the German to get out under his own power – shaken, but not injured.
The race restarted on Lap 4 and would have been a perfect time for Verstappen to launch one of his now-familiar recovery drives. Instead, his Red Bull again had brief power unit issues that pitted him, instead, against his Brazilian nemesis, Esteban Ocon. No sooner had his power dipped, then it returned, and the pair jousted through several corners without damage before Verstappen shook off the Frenchman’s Force India challenge for good.
A couple of laps later, Kimi Raikkonen’s final race for Ferrari ended with a complete car shut down on the start-finish straight. A virtual safety car period was initiated with Hamilton, Leclerc and Grosjean all pitting for supersoft tyres and attempt to go to the end of the race. Hamilton dropped to fifth, behind Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo and Verstappen.
The Brit immediately attacked the Dutchman into the first chicane, but Verstappen fought back to hold onto fourth place. Hamilton couldn’t claim the spot until Verstappen’s tyre stop in tandem with Vettel and Bottas on Laps 15-17. But now, he was trailing new leader Daniel Riccardo who was still on his starting tyres.
Ricciardo would keep the gap to three seconds until he finally made his tyre stop on Lap 33 for supersofts. With Hamilton now in command at the front, followed by Bottas and Vettel, the Aussie rejoined in fifth place and eight seconds behind teammate Verstappen. Both Red Bull drivers then began their charge up the order.
Bottas fell first to Vettel on Lap 35, with Verstappen repeating the move on Lap 36 after the Finn cut the chicane and lost his place in the Turns 11-12-13 complex. After Ricciardo made a similar move, Bottas dove for new tyres. He would finish a distant fifth.
Vettel was slowing catching Hamilton and was five seconds behind with ten laps to go, but the pace flattered to deceive. There were to be no last lap dramas. Hamilton seemed not even to break a sweat during the race as he calmly finished 2.5-seconds ahead of Vettel, with Verstappen another 3-seconds back for third place. Ricciardo, in his final race for Red Bull, was disappointed to remain two seconds behind him for fourth place.
After Bottas came Carlos Sainz, ending his Renault tenure as the best of the midfield. Sauber’s Charles Leclerc held off Sergio Perez’s Force India for seventh, followed by the Haas duo of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen in ninth and tenth places.
Fernando Alonso had to settle for 11th place in his final race in Formula One. He cruised around in an honour guard formation cool-down lap led by fellow world champions Hamilton and Vettel. Alonso ends his 17-year Formula One career with 311 starts, which includes 32 wins, 97 podiums, 22 poles and 1,764 laps led, with his two titles coming in 2005 and 2006 with Renault.
Whatever you think of Fernando Alonso, when he gets in the cockpit, he always tries his absolute hardest. He is a born competitor. And let’s face it, without him, the last 15 years would have been so much duller as the likes of Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel wouldn’t have had much competition.
Fairy Tale Story
Eight years after sustaining career-threatening injuries in a rallying crash in Italy, Robert Kubica announced he’ll make his F1 race comeback with Williams F1, alongside the already-confirmed George Russell, the best rookie available. So, come on now Williams, sort out your aero.
Verstappen’s superb driving since Monaco resulted in a huge points haul. From a battered and distant 6th in the earlier WDC standings, he managed to end 4th. In the four Grands Prix before Abu Dhabi, Verstappen took 76-points beaten only Hamilton’s 77. If not for his bad start/restart (caused by software glitches) he could have ended P2 in the race, with those 18 points lifting him past DNF-ing Raikkonen to 3rd in the year’s overall standings. As it stands: 3 – Raikkonen 251pts. 4 – Verstappen 249pts. 5 – Bottas 247pts. Colossal achievement to finish right between two vastly superior car/engine combinations.
The seven points Bottas lost by having to let Hamilton by in Sochi has in effect cost him two places in the championship. Perhaps it was worth it for Mercedes as Hamilton would have “only” won the title by 81 points otherwise. It also put Hamilton one step closer to overtaking Schumacher’s total wins and titles records, which is now an absolute certainty.
Focus on 2019
With the 2018 season officially complete, teams turn their full attention to 2019. While the season-opening Australian Grand Prix won’t take place until March 17, plenty of work will happen between now and then, with preseason testing Feb. 18-21 and Feb. 26-March 1 at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya providing the first glimpse of where teams stand at the start of Formula One’s 70th season.