Hamilton Holds Off Vettel As Alonso Leaves F1 (For Now At Least)
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
With this year’s Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles already settled, the F1 teams headed to Abu Dhabi for the last race of the year, looking to end the season on a high before the post Grand Prix test and then the much awaited winter break, and it was Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton who claimed an 11th victory of 2018 ahead of his arch rival Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
In the days preceding the Abu Dhabi weekend the Williams team had announced that they were promoting their 33-year-old Polish reserve driver Robert Kubica to one of their race seats for the 2019 season. Kubica had been very much a rising star in Formula 1 until a serious rallying accident back in early 2011 left him with severe multiple injuries from which he has slowly recovered, if not fully and is still left with a weakened right hand and arm. It will be good to see him back racing in F1 and his latent ability behind the wheel plus financial backing have earned him his opportunity.
Kubica’s team-mate at Williams next year will be 20-year-old George Russell from King’s Lynn in Norfolk, consistently very quick driver and one of the nicest guys I have ever met in a racing paddock. He was the GP3 champion last year and wrapped up the 2018 Formula 2 title in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. May Williams give him a far better car next year than their current one so that he can show his true talent in F1 and not just be fighting to avoid the back of the grid.
Abu Dhabi was also a landmark for Spanish double world champion Fernando Alonso as it was his last Grand Prix before leaving the McLaren team and Formula 1, although the door has been left open about a possible future return. His car, helmet and race suit bore a special livery to mark the occasion.
In Friday’s opening free practice session Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, starting his last race weekend for the team before switching to Renault next year, topped the timesheets ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton for Mercedes, with Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen and Vettel down in seventh and eighth whilst testing new parts for next year.
Bottas then went fastest in second practice ahead of the Red Bull duo, Hamilton and the Ferraris before Saturday’s final session when this year’s champion emerged on top, closely followed by the pair of red cars from Italy.
The sun set as the qualifying hour progressed and, although Vettel set a personal best time in the top ten shootout, the German driver was unable to challenge the superiority of Hamilton and Bottas as Mercedes claimed control of the front row of the grid at the Yas Marina circuit for a fifth consecutive year. Räikkönen completed an all Ferrari second row followed by the Red Bulls.
When the starting gantry red lights went out for the final time this year the top four on the grid maintained position as they began the first of 55 laps, but there was high drama to their rear as Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault was tipped into a slow speed barrel roll by the Haas of Romain Grosjean and ended up upside down against the barriers. It was a pure racing incident and, after a brief fire was extinguished and the shaken German driver was checked by doctors, his car was uprighted and he was taken to the medical centre where fortunately no injuries were found.
The Safety Car was employed to control the removal of Hülkenberg and his car and when racing resumed at the end of the fourth tour Hamilton made a great restart out front as Verstappen and Esteban Ocon, who had tangled so controversially two weeks ago in Brazil, had a tremendous if hard battle for eighth position. The pair have history dating back to their days in Formula 3 and on this occasion the Dutch charger got the better of his French rival.
The incidents continued on lap seven when the unlucky Räikkönen’s Ferrari ground to a halt on the start/finish straight, a sad way to conclude his final race for the Scuderia. Whilst a Virtual Safety Car period was used to slow the field until the Ferrari was removed, Hamilton’s Mercedes strategists took advantage of it to pit him earlier than intended to switch to Supersoft tyres and it very much paid off later, even though it temporarily dropped the British multiple champion back to fifth place.
The other leading contenders subsequently made their pitstops, starting with a slow one for Vettel on lap 16 and a brilliant one for Verstappen two tours later, timed at just 2.08 seconds!
Despite the Grand Prix being held in a desert with an air temperature of 33C it amazingly began to rain on lap 23 and this precipitation became heavier, with lightning to follow, but the conditions were never wet enough to make the teams feel the need to switch away from slick tyres.
Red Bull’s Ricciardo was the last of the frontrunners to head to the pits and so led the race until lap 34 when he stopped to change to Supersoft rubber, rejoining the circuit back in fifth position.
Hamilton was still comfortable out front, but his team-mate Bottas was soon about to struggle as he was passed by Vettel, Verstappen and Ricciardo, with the Finn dropping from second to fifth in just a handful of laps.
As the closing laps were reeled off Hamilton led Vettel, the two Red Bulls and Bottas to the chequered flag, with Renault’s Carlos Sainz completing the top six as the best of the rest outside the top three teams after a fine drive.
With no need to protect power units and gearboxes any further this season Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso delighted the fans with plenty of celebratory “doughnuts” to bring down the curtain on the season amidst a cloud of pungent tyre smoke.
So another year of F1 racing has ended and, despite Mercedes winning both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships again for a fifth year running, there has been so much to enjoy with plenty of close racing throughout the grid.
The teams have long been working on next year’s cars and these efforts will now intensify. 2019 will feature some regulation changes, with drivers moving on to new teams, returning to the sport or arriving for the first time, including Britain’s very own George Russell and Lando Norris, so there is already so much to look forward to. The lights will go out at the start of the first Grand Prix next year in Melbourne’s Albert Park on March 17 and I already can’t wait!
2018 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr39m40.382s
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +2.581s
3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +12.706s
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) + 15.379s
5 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +47.957s
6 Carlos Sainz (Renault) +1m12.548s
7 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +1m30.789s
8 Sergio Perez (Force India) +1m31.275s
9 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
10 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
11 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Lapped
12 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Lapped
13 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
14 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
15 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
16 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Retired
17 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Retired
18 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Retired
19 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) Retired
20 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Retired
2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 408
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 320
3 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) 251
4 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 249
5 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 247
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 170
7 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) 69
8 Sergio Perez (Force India) 62
9 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) 56
10 Carlos Sainz (Renault) 53
11 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) 50
12 Esteban Ocon (Force India) 49
13 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) 39
14 Romain Grosjean (Haas) 37
15 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) 29
16 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) 12
17 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) 9
18 Lance Stroll (Williams) 6
19 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) 4
20 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) 1
2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship
1 Mercedes 655
2 Ferrari 571
3 Red Bull 419
4 Renault 122
5 Haas 93
6 McLaren 62
7 Force India 52
8 Sauber 48
9 Toro Rosso 33
10 Williams 7
Hamilton Holds Off Vettel As Alonso Leaves F1 (For Now At Least), 26th November 2018, 4:24 AM