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
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.
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.
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)