Max Verstappen closed his brilliant F1 season with a record-extending 15th victory in the Yas Marina Circuit
Max Verstappen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with an utterly untouchable performance from pole to flag in Formula One’s season finale. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc drove a masterful race to take second, taking full advantage of his team’s tactical one-stop strategy that ensured the Monegasque driver finished second in the championship.
Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez was third, unable to close out a one-two in the drivers’ championship for Red Bull. The Mexican started the race tied with Leclerc at 290 points, but he fell 1.3s short of catching the Monegasque for second in the final laps.
Carlos Sainz was fourth in the other Ferrari. The Spaniard caught and passed Lewis Hamilton with five laps remaining after the Brit’s Mercedes developed a hydraulics issue which caused him to drop down the order and retire from the race.
It officially ended Hamilton’s record of 15 consecutive seasons, scoring at least one race victory every season. George Russell finished ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Aston Martin’s Stroll and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. Sebastian Vettel took the final point for Aston Martin to close out his illustrious F1 career.
Max Verstappen seized the final pole position of the season with a storming qualifying lap ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, giving Red Bull a front-row lockout.
Verstappen lapped the floodlit track in 1:23.824s. Perez was 0.228s off the double world champion’s pace, but crucially, he pipped Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc, with the pair tied on points for second in the standings.
The Abu Dhabi pole was the 20th of Verstappen’s career and his seventh this season. Carlos Sainz took fourth on the second row alongside Ferrari teammate Leclerc. Lewis Hamilton was fifth ahead of teammate George Russell in a Mercedes third-row lockout.
Every driver started on the medium tyre, except Magnussen (P16) and Bottas (P18) on the hards and Gasly (P17) on the soft rubber.
At lights out, Verstappen leads into the first corner from Perez. Hamilton streaks up to 4th. Sainz pushed Hamilton for track position, and the Brit bounced off track but returned in front of the Spaniard. Russell dropped to seventh.
By Lap 3, Verstappen leads by 2.1s from Perez, who is clear of Leclerc, Hamilton, Sainz, Russell, Norris, Ocon, Vettel and Alonso. Two laps later, Mercedes ordered Hamilton to let Sainz by for P4. But using DRS, Hamilton gets back ahead of the Ferrari driver. In the meantime, Sainz comes under pressure from Russell.
On Lap 7, Russell is on the team radio.” Lewis needs to pick up the pace so Sainz doesn’t get DRS. We’re quicker than the Ferraris. We can beat them”.
It’s too late. On Lap 8, Sainz gets within DRS range and retakes fourth from Hamilton. Russell passed Hamilton the next lap. The Brit’s immediately on the team radio, “I’m losing power, what’s going on?” By Lap 11, Hamilton is struggling now two seconds behind Russell.
Meanwhile, by Lap 15, Verstappen leads by over 5 seconds. In the fight for eighth, Ocon leads Vettel and Alonso. But the Frenchman opted to pit, releasing the retiring German.
On Lap 16, Leclerc got within DRS range of Perez, and Red Bull pits the Mexican. Russell also came in, and it was a long stop. He complained about his tyres and switches to hards. He rejoined in ninth. Stewards reported a possible unsafe release for Russell in the pits to compound his problems.
Hamilton stopped for hards on Lap 19. As he rejoined, the Brit reported, “I think the floor is broken.”
Verstappen pits on Lap 21 as Leclerc takes the lead. The Dutchman remained ahead of Perez, who had closed the gap. A lap later, Russel receives a five-second time penalty for an unsafe release. On Lap 22, Leclerc pits. He returns to the track just ahead of his teammate Sainz.
On Lap 26, a frustrated Vettel complained, “We’re just getting eaten up by everybody.” He pits for hard tyres and rejoins 19th. Can he get back into the points?
Alonso retired on Lap 28 in his last race for Alpine. He will drive for Aston Martin next season.
By Lap 32, Vettel was on the charge back up to 15th. Perez pitted earlier than Leclerc and led the Monegasque by 1.5s; however, Red Bull senses the Mexican’s tyres will not last. Perez pits on Lap 34 as Leclerc stays out. The Mexican now needs to go quickly to stay ahead when the Ferrari pits.
However, Leclerc’s Ferrari seems happy on the hard tyres and commits to going to the end. Perez is 18s behind and in sixth place. Leclerc is second, and Sainz is third. On Lap 39, Perez gets the rallying call, “Expect Leclerc to go to the end. Reel him in.”
One lap later, Latifi and Schumacher tangle and make contact. Both can continue but face an investigation. Sainz and Russell pit, with Russell serving his five-second penalty.
Now up to fourth on Lap 44, Perez is taking a second a lap out of Leclerc. Ferrari tells Leclerc they believe the Red Bull will overtake them. However, Perez must catch and pass Hamilton first.
The Mexican makes his move on Lap 45. But Hamilton retakes the place after Perez locks up his brakes. The Mexican made it stick on Lap 47. He now chased down Leclerc, nine seconds ahead.
With ten remaining, Verstappen was on the team radio, “The tyres are good. Just tell Checo to go full send, the tyres will be fine.”
By Lap 51, Verstappen has produced sublime perfection; his race wrapped up. The battle remained for Leclerc vs Perez & Hamilton vs Sainz.
Hamilton pushed for all his worth, but by Lap 53, he had exceeded track limits too many times. One more would result in a time penalty. He never had the chance. But, on Lap 57, it was over. Hamilton’s Mercedes suffered a hydraulic failure, its first mechanical failure of the season for Hamilton.
At the flag, Leclerc led Perez by 1.3s, the Monegasque finishing second in the championship.
“I was 110 per cent from the first lap to the last, said Leclerc. We had the perfect race. I knew the only way for us to beat Checo was with a different strategy and playing with time management, which we did really well. We made the one-stop work so I am really happy.”
“I’m sure I’m going to miss it more than I understand right now. I had a nice battle with Daniel but I just couldn’t get close enough. But I think it’s nice to have fought the last couple of laps with him, with both of us finishing in the points. It’s been a big weekend.”
“I hope to pass on to some of the other drivers to carry on some of the good work. It’s great to see that we have the power inspire you with what we do and what we say.”
“My 15th win of the season is unbelievable. It’s been really enjoyable this year, working with the whole team to be able to achieve something like this this year. I know it’s going to be hard to replicate something this but it’s also very good motivation to try and do well next year.”
“It is how it is. Sometimes everything can be really close. At the end of the day, I’ve got to be happy. I gave it all, as a team we gave it all through the season, and I’m sure we will come back stronger next year.”