DE­BRIEF

Five-time cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton un­der­lined his dom­i­nance by end­ing the year with a crush­ing win – as the sun also set on Fer­nando Alonso’s F1 ca­reer

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

The sea­so­nend­ing Abu Dhabi GP

The fi­nal act of the 2018 sea­son was a fit­ting trib­ute. Af­ter the che­quered flag had fallen on the Abu Dhabi GP, the three mul­ti­ple world cham­pi­ons in the field came to the fin­ish line and or­ches­trated a se­ries of donuts. They sent tyre smoke pour­ing into the grand­stands packed with cheer­ing fans.

Race win­ner Lewis Hamil­ton led the pirou­ettes, ac­com­pa­nied by sec­ond-placed Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and the de­part­ing Fer­nando Alonso. As has so of­ten been the case dur­ing his sec­ond era at strug­gling Mclaren, Alonso was nowhere near the podium. He fin­ished 11th, pick­ing up three five-sec­ond time penal­ties for cut­ting the chi­canes on his fi­nal laps…

Al­though the mar­gin of vic­tory at the end was just 2.5s, it was a com­fort­able win for Hamil­ton, his 11th of the sea­son and the 73rd of his ca­reer. Per­haps more re­mark­ably – since the cur­rent points sys­tem was in­tro­duced in 2010 – Hamil­ton has be­come the first driver to break the 400 points bar­rier, fin­ish­ing the year on 408 points.

QUAL­I­FY­ING

This was Mercedes fifth con­sec­u­tive front-row lock­out of this cir­cuit and Hamil­ton’s 83rd pole. When he stepped out of the cock­pit, he re­vealed that he was strug­gling to keep his emo­tions in check, know­ing this would be the last time he’d get the chance to nail a qual­i­fy­ing hot lap in the W09.

“I’m prob­a­bly the clos­est to this car than I’ve been with any car,” said Hamil­ton. “It’s been a real priv­i­lege to work with it this year, and I’m just grate­ful to my team for putting it to­gether.”

Hamil­ton’s mar­gin over his Mercedes team-mate Valt­teri Bot­tas was 0.162s, with Vet­tel a fur­ther 0.169s back. The mar­gin summed up the lat­ter part of Vet­tel’s sea­son, though he qual­i­fied ahead of his team-mate Kimi Räikkö­nen and the two Red Bulls.

Once again, one of the stars of qual­i­fy­ing was Charles Le­clerc, who man­aged to haul his Sauber into the top ten, along with Ro­main Gros­jean, Nico Hülken­berg and Este­ban Ocon.

Q2 was strate­gi­cally the most in­ter­est­ing ses­sion as the top two teams, Mercedes and Fer­rari, set their fastest laps ac­cord­ing to plan on the ul­tra­soft tyre. In con­trast, Max Ver­stap­pen had to make a fi­nal run on hy­per­softs to nail a spot in Q3, which locked him in to start­ing on the fast-but-frag­ile com­pound. Ricciardo, on the cusp of elim­i­na­tion in the other Red Bull, switched to the hy­per­soft but backed out of his lap when in­formed he was safe and would start on the ul­tra.

Fur­ther back, there was hope Alonso could achieve some­thing spe­cial in qual­i­fy­ing on his fi­nal F1 out­ing. He did man­age to get his Mclaren out of Q1 at least, giv­ing him a 21-0 qual­i­fy­ing white­wash over team-mate Stof­fel Van­doorne in 2018.

RACE

As the sun be­gan its de­scent, Hamil­ton led Bot­tas away from the line and the Fer­raris fol­lowed in for­ma­tion. But Ver­stap­pen was slow away in his Red Bull as his en­gine slipped er­ro­neously into a fail­safe mode, and he dropped four places.

As the pack blasted down the main straight, Le­clerc got a run past Ricciardo for fifth as they ap­proached the brak­ing zone for the Turn 8/9 chi­cane. Im­me­di­ately be­hind, Hülken­berg dived late on the brakes to snatch sev­enth from Gros­jean.

Both cars went wide but Gros­jean just man­aged to avoid tak­ing to the run-off, giv­ing him a sniff of the in­side line for Turn 9, the right-handed part of the chi­cane. Be­liev­ing Gros­jean to have run up the es­cape road, Hülken­berg turned in and was tipped into a roll as his right-rear ran up and over

“DRS EN­ABLED OCON TO RE­TURN THE FAVOUR IM­ME­DI­ATELY ON THE NEXT STRAIGHT, BUT VER­STAP­PEN DIDN’T GIVE UP AND MADE THE MOVE STICK – WITH A FORCE­FUL, EL­BOWS-OUT SHOVE ON THE SEV­ENTH LAP

Gros­jean’s front-left. Com­ing to rest up­side down against the bar­ri­ers, Nico had to stay in his Re­nault un­til the mar­shals had put it back on its wheels.

Af­ter four laps be­hind the Safety Car, rac­ing re­sumed with Hamil­ton ahead of Bot­tas, Vet­tel, Räikkö­nen and Le­clerc. Be­hind them, Ver­stap­pen was ea­ger to make up lost time and was ro­bust in his pass on his Brazil­ian GP neme­sis Ocon at Turn 7.

DRS en­abled Ocon to re­turn the favour im­me­di­ately on the next straight, but Ver­stap­pen didn’t give up and made the move stick – with a force­ful, el­bows-out shove on the sev­enth lap.

Up ahead, Le­clerc passed Räikkö­nen for fourth, an ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment that was ex­plained when Räikkö­nen ground to a halt on the start/fin­ish line with no elec­tri­cal power. There was no choice but for race con­trol to ac­ti­vate the Vir­tual Safety Car to re­cover the stricken Fer­rari.

When a VSC co­in­cides with the pit win­dow, driv­ers can pit and lose less time rel­a­tive to their ri­vals – but this seemed rather too early. Still, Mercedes acted quickly to bring Hamil­ton in, leav­ing Bot­tas out, and none of the other fron­trun­ners took the bait. Eight laps later Fer­rari sig­nalled Vet­tel in, but their hopes of un­der­cut­ting Bot­tas were scup­pered when Vet­tel’s right-rear wheel was slow to dis­en­gage. Bot­tas stopped one lap later and emerged still ahead.

The stops left Ricciardo lead­ing on the road and, since his lap­ti­mes were still com­pet­i­tive, Red Bull left him out un­til lap 33. When he fi­nally pit­ted he re­joined in fifth, be­hind Hamil­ton, Bot­tas, Vet­tel and Ver­stap­pen. A lap later, Bot­tas suf­fered a lock-up into Turn 5 and lost sec­ond to Vet­tel.

Three laps later Ver­stap­pen made an­other of his sig­na­ture moves and mus­cled his way past Bot­tas at the Turn 11/12 chi­cane, bang­ing wheels and in­flict­ing a slow punc­ture that con­signed Bot­tas to fifth (be­hind Ricciardo) at the fin­ish.

With three laps to go, Alonso was 11th and just 3.3s off Kevin Mag­nussen’s Haas. In­structed to “go and get a point”, Alonso’s blunt re­sponse was “I’ve al­ready got 1,800.” 1,899 to be ex­act, which was fewer than his abil­ity mer­ited.

Hamil­ton led from the start (above), and used the VSC pe­riod caused by Raikko­nen’s stop­page (left) to claim his 11th win of the sea­son (be­low)

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