Verstappen Imperious In Abu Dhabi Finale
The big news before Formula 1’s season finale in Abu Dhabi today was that Lewis Hamilton was returning for Mercedes after suffering from COVID-19 and missing the previous race in Bahrain, but it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who drove faultlessly to take the victory spoils come the chequered flag.
Max Verstappen concluded his season with an impressive pole position and lights-to-flag victory
The whole F1 circus was very much isolated in its own “biosphere” lockdown area on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, where the circuit is located, after arriving on special charter flights from nearby Bahrain and access was very strictly controlled. In the Formula 1 paddock there was much talk about Hamilton’s return and the fact that it meant the highly talented and likeable young British driver George Russell had to go back to his regular lowly berth at Williams after he had so impressed for Mercedes just days earlier. Despite rumours that Mercedes had been trying unsuccessfully to transfer the services of Mercedes junior driver Russell to the works team for next year in place of Valtteri Bottas, team principal Toto Wolff sought to stop the speculation by confirming that the Finn would still be partnering Hamilton again in 2021. Away from the driver front, the Mercedes team also chose to thank all the 2000 staff who contribute to their F1 operation by including all their names on the cars’ bodywork.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had arrived knowing he already faced a three place grid penalty following his opening lap misdemeanour at the previous weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix and everyone at the iconic Italian team had been shocked by Thursday’s sudden and unexpected resignation and immediate early retirement of CEO Louis Camilleri, who has been suffering with coronavirus. Camilleri had been in the role since 2018 and had led the company to a significant rise in its share price as a keen supporter of both the brand and its Formula 1 operation. Chairman John Elkann has taken over temporarily until a successor can be found.
Over in the Haas camp Pietro Fittipaldi continued to deputise for the injured and departing Romain Grosjean, although one of the team’s two 2021 rookie drivers, Mick Schumacher, was given a run in Friday’s opening free practice session. It was actually lovely to see Grosjean, who is recuperating back at his Swiss home with his wife and three children, leave F1 with so much support and goodwill after having often been the butt of criticism as a driver.
Red Bull was still keeping quiet about whether its current driver Alex Albon would be retained for next season or perhaps be replaced by Sergio Perez, who had again driven well in Bahrain last weekend but had been somewhat fortuitous to win for Racing Point.
Mercedes added the names of its 2000 staff to its cars’ livery
Meanwhile, Haas had other problems to deal with as its other new driver for next season, the Russian Nikita Mazepin, posted a short video of highly inappropriate sexual behaviour on his Instagram account, which the team rightly condemned as “abhorrent”. The team issued a statement saying the issue was being dealt with internally and Mazepin subsequently apologised on Twitter, having removed the footage.
The issue about which drivers were and weren’t going to be allowed to take part in the post race Abu Dhabi Young Driver test continued. Originally it had been intended to be restricted to any driver who hadn’t competed in more than two Grands Prix, but then it was controversially relaxed to include any driver who hadn’t raced in F1 in 2020. This meant drivers like Carlos Sainz, Sebastien Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, all changing teams for next year, weren’t granted permission by the FIA governing body to test, but Renault would be allowed to run the returning 39 year old Fernando Alonso.
With the Renault team set to be renamed as Alpine F1 next year, it was time to celebrate the French manufacturer’s achievements in the sport and Fernando Alonso put in some exciting demonstration laps in his 2005 R25 title-winning car. The whole F1 paddock and fans around the world were thrilled by the sound of that glorious screaming V10 engine and the car’s sheer speed, which was close to the race pace of the current ones.
Come Friday’s opening free practice session the Red Bull of Verstappen led the way ahead of Bottas’ Mercedes, with his team-mate Hamilton back in fifth place, but in the later twilight practice period the timesheets were headed by Bottas and Hamilton, with Verstappen and Albon the best of the rest. The session was interrupted though by red flags after Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo had caught fire. The entire rear of the car was soon engulfed in flames, but the laconic Finn merely responded by saying it was “nothing scary”. Saturday’s final practice was dominated by Verstappen, with his Red Bull team-mate next fastest but half a second adrift. Hamilton and Bottas were only sixth and ninth respectively, but they were clearly hiding their true pace as Mercedes chose not to undertake any qualifying simulation runs.
It was back to business as usual for George Russell after returning to the uncompetitive Williams team
The usual three stage qualifying process stood out as for the first time this year a Mercedes driver didn’t claim pole position. Instead the honour was earned by a flying Verstappen, who edged out Bottas, Hamilton and the excellent Lando Norris, whose McLaren would line up in fourth place on the grid for the following day’s Grand Prix. With his team-mate Carlos Sainz immediately behind him on the third row, this put the Woking based team in a strong position as it sought to relieve Racing Point of third place in the Constructors’ Championship, something which would bring approximately £4m of additional post season prize money if achieved.
What a difference a week made for Russell though as, after missing pole position for Mercedes by just 0.026s in Bahrain, his Williams car was only 18th fastest in Abu Dhabi. You have to be a great driver to win in Formula 1, but how this reminded us all that you so need to be in a great car too.
The 55 lap Grand Prix was to be a day to night affair, with the formation lap starting at exactly 17.10 local time, and for several drivers it was to be their last race (for now at least) for their current teams. Sebastian Vettel, destined for Aston Martin next year, lined up for Ferrari after arriving in Maranello back in 2015 and Sainz was set for his McLaren finale before wearing red overalls next season. McLaren bound Daniel Ricciardo was also wearing his Renault race suit for one last time and Perez and Kevin Magnussen were having their final outings for Racing Point and Haas respectively, with the same probably applying to AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat too.
This Grand Prix has been won for the last five years by the driver on pole position and when the red lights went out for the last time this season we witnessed a clean start as the top six on the grid maintained station. On the sixth tour though Albon found a way past Norris and this created a leading quartet of Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton and Albon which was to be maintained to the chequered flag.
Valtteri Bottas earned a solid second place finish under the floodlights
Perez has suffered some cruel luck this season and this simply continued for the Mexican driver today as his car ground to a halt with transmission related issues on lap 10. This led to a virtual safety car period, which then became a full safety car period as his stranded Racing Point was removed from the track, and all the frontrunners immediately headed into the pits to switch to hard specification tyres. After the Mercedes pit stop debacle in Bahrain a week ago, which almost certainly cost Russell a victory on his Mercedes debut, it was interesting that today’s double stack stop for its drivers worked perfectly.
Following the restart on lap 14 we had the same quartet as before out front, but Ricciardo held on to fifth position until he pitted 26 tours later. The Australian’s late stop slotted Norris and Sainz into fifth and sixth places respectively, which they retained to the end. As the number of remaining laps reduced, the leading Verstappen was proving to be in a class of his own as the Mercedes pair in his wake for once had no answer to the pace the Dutch charger was able to consistently extract from his Red Bull car.
Lewis Hamilton certainly caught the eye as he arrived in the Abu Dhabi paddock!
As the last race of the year concluded, the podium finishers were thus Verstappen, Bottas and Hamilton, with the latter saying after the race that he had been “massively” affected by his coronavirus aftereffects. Albon finished a strong fourth, well clear of the McLaren duo, whilst Ricciardo claimed the extra point for the fastest lap on the very last tour. The battle for third place in the Constructors’ Championship behind Mercedes and Red Bull went the way of McLaren, their first top three finish since 2012, and followed an announcement earlier today of the sale of a minority stake in the team to a US-based consortium for £185m.
The sun sets on another F1 season after 17 Grands Prix in just 23 weeks
As the sun sets on another Formula 1 season dominated again by Mercedes it’s still been a wild ride with 17 races in just 23 weeks and I hope you have all enjoyed it as much as I certainly have. Everyone involved deserves to be congratulated for what has been achieved during such difficult times and may the world be a big step closer to being a far safer place by the time the next Formula 1 season is due to start in Melbourne, Australia next March.
2020 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr36m28.645s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +15.976s
3 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +18.415s
4 Alex Albon (Red Bull) +19.987s
5 Lando Norris (McLaren) +1m0.729s
6 Carlos Sainz (McLaren) +1m5.662s
7 Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) +1m13.748s
8 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1m29.718s
9 Esteban Ocon (Renault) +1m41.069s
10 Lance Stroll (Racing Point) +1m42.738s
11 Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri) Lapped
12 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
13 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) Lapped
14 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) Lapped
15 George Russell (Williams) Lapped
16 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
17 Nicholas Latifi (Williams) Lapped
18 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
19 Pietro Fittipaldi (Haas) Lapped
20 Sergio Perez (Racing Point) Retired
2020 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship
1 Lewis Hamilton 347
2 Valtteri Bottas 223
3 Max Verstappen 214
4 Sergio Perez 125
5 Daniel Ricciardo 119
6 Carlos Sainz 105
7 Alex Albon 105
8 Charles Leclerc 98
9 Lando Norris 97
10 Pierre Gasly 75
11 Lance Stroll 75
12 Esteban Ocon 62
13 Sebastian Vettel 33
14 Daniil Kvyat 32
15 Nico Hülkenberg 10
16 Kimi Räikkönen 4
17 Antonio Giovinazzi 4
18 George Russell 3
19 Romain Grosjean 2
20 Kevin Magnussen 1
21 Nicholas Latifi 0
22 Jack Aitken 0
23 Pietro Fittipaldi 0
2020 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship
1 Mercedes 573
2 Red Bull 319
3 McLaren 202
4 Racing Point 195
5 Renault 181
6 Ferrari 131
7 AlphaTauri 107
8 Alfa Romeo 8
9 Haas 3
10 Williams 0