Verstappen takes Abu Dhabi victory, Leclerc seals second in championship
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix turned out to be a tyre management race which Max Verstappen easily controlled to take victory and finish the season on a high. Charles Leclerc made a single-stop strategy work and finished second, just ahead of Sergio Perez.
The start of the race was hectic, at least behind the Red Bulls who got off cleanly and easily maintained their first and second position. Behind them, Leclerc held third while Hamilton initially moved up to fourth past Sainz. The latter tried to get Hamilton back at the end of the long back straight but it immediately resulted in an investigation for forcing Hamilton off-track. No penalties were handed while Hamilton got his 4th place back by cutting the corner. Hamilton was though asked to let Sainz past two laps later, something he did immediately despite him being nearly two seconds ahead of the Spaniard by that time.
So that left Sainz in 5th, followed by Norris who moved up past Russell at the start. Ocon followed in 8th, then Vettel, Alonso, Tsunoda and Stroll. The best start was realised by Alex Albon, gaining 4 places from 19th to 15th.
On lap 6 Hamilton passed Sainz once again, dropping him right into the path of Russell as the Mercedes were starting to show what Sainz had expected on Saturday already; better race pace for the Mercedes. Still, two laps later, Sainz returned to 4th followed by Hamilton unable to follow Sainz and getting passed by Russell one lap later. Hamilton complained of power loss but didn't get an explanation.
Meanwhile Ocon maintained 8th while Vettel and Alonso behind continued to stay within DRS range. Ocon was eventually the first to pit on lap 15, followed by Tsunoda, Schumacher and Gasly. At the same time, Alonso complained he was stuck, saying "we are so slow".
The next lap Perez, Russell and Norris pitted to switch to hard tyres. Perez returned to the track in 6th and passed Vettel on the straight, only to overshoot Turn 6, get re-passed by Vettel through Turn 8 and lose another lap behind the Aston Martin before re-taking 4th.
Russell's pitstop meanwhile wasn't the greatest and on top of that he would receive a 5s penalty for an unsafe release
On lap 20 Verstappen pitted from the lead, bringing Leclerc in the lead. Along with Vettel the Ferrari driver was the only one at the time to still run on his medium Pirelli tyres from the start, past Pirelli's predicted first stint length for a two-stopper. Lerclec pitted the next lap and Vettel did so another 5 laps later after reporting "It's the worst. We're getting eaten by everyone".
Lap 28 marks the end of Alonso's stint at Alpine as he retired the car with another technical problem.
In front the gaps remained surprisingly small. As Verstappen led pretty much by a constant 2.5s over Perez, Leclerc slowly closed in to Perez, down to 1.5s on lap 33. Sainz followed 5s further down while reporting tyre struggles. Russel trailed the second Ferrari by 2.8s with another 2.5s further behind his teammate Lewis Hamilton who appeared to have found some pace back after the surprising drop in performance round about lap 6.
On lap 34 Perez pitted for a fresh set of hard tyres, returning to the track 10s behind Hamilton. At the same time Verstappen was asked to "increase tyre management" with the team clearly worried about the durability of the tyres.
By the time Sainz and Russell pitted simultaneously on lap 40, Hamilton had come back under the rear wing of Russell, moving up to third because of those stops while Perez trailed the Mercedes at 3 seconds. Russell notably switched to mediums as Sainz took on fresh hards.
7 laps from the end it became a battle of who could make their tyres last the longest. Verstappen didn't really have much to worry about with 7s still in his pocket over Leclerc, but the latter had Perez chasing him on 12 lap newer tyres in their battle for second place in the championship. The gap between them was 6s with 7 laps left. Hamilton meanwhile had similarly old hards while Sainz was 5s behind on 20 laps newer tyres, a situation Hamilton wasn't particularly fond of after having asked repeatedly to stop a second time.
Three laps from the end the Mercedes finally gave up after displaying incredible reliabiltiy throughout the season. A hydraulic problem forced Hamilton to rumble slowly to the pitlane and the end of a year with a car he wasn't particularly fond of.
With victory sealed the battle for second raged on as the gapbetween LEclerc and Perez ended up being 1.85s as they crossed the finish line to start the final lap. By Turn 6 it was down to 1.7s but positions didn't change, much to the joy of Ferrari and Leclerc as this meant second place in the championship for Charles.
|1||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Rbpt||58||1:27:45.914||25|
|3||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Rbpt||58||+10.093s||15|
|6||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||58||+56.234s||9|
|7||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||58||+57.240s||6|
|8||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||58||+76.931s||4|
|9||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Mclaren Mercedes||58||+83.268s||2|
|10||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||58||+83.898s||1|
|11||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Rbpt||58||+89.371s||0|
|12||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||57||+1 lap||0|
|13||23||Alexander Albon||Williams Mercedes||57||+1 lap||0|
|14||10||Pierre Gasly||Alphatauri Rbpt||57||+1 lap||0|
|15||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||57||+1 lap||0|
|16||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||57||+1 lap||0|
|17||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||57||+1 lap||0|
|19||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||55||DNF||0|
|NC||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||27||DNF||0|
Schumacher received a five-second time penalty for causing a collision.