Alonso leaves f1, but for good?

The cham­pion caps his sea­son in fine style

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - BY JAMES ROBERTS

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. The Spa­niard was once again nowhere near the podium. He fin­ished the race in 11th and amus­ingly was struck with 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 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. He fin­ished on 408.

His Mercedes team-mate Valt­teri Bot­tas was set for sec­ond around the flood­lit Yas Ma­rina track, but 20 laps from the end made a mis­take, lock­ing-up into the Turn 5/6 chi­cane. That en­abled Vet­tel to swoop past be­fore Turn 8.

Three laps later, Max Ver­stap­pen was also through, the pair mak­ing slight con­tact at the Turn 12-13 chi­cane. That sealed the podium for the Dutch­man as Bot­tas suf­fered a slow punc­ture on his right-rear and pit­ted for a sec­ond time, putting him be­hind the sec­ond Red Bull of Dan Ric­cia­rdo in fifth place.

Qual­i­fy­ing

This was Mercedes’s fifth con­sec­u­tive front-row lock-out of this cir­cuit and the 83rd pole po­si­tion of Hamil­ton’s ca­reer. When he stepped out of the cock­pit of the W09, he re­vealed a lit­tle bit of emo­tion with his cham­pi­onship­win­ning car, know­ing this would be the last time he’d get the chance to nail a qual­i­fy­ing hot-lap in it.

“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 her this year and I’m just grate­ful to my team for putting it to­gether.”

Hamil­ton’s mar­gin over his Mercedes team-mate was 0.162s, with Vet­tel a fur­ther 0.169s back. The Fer­rari man qual­i­fied ahead of his team-mate Kimi Raikko­nen 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 10, along with Ro­main Gros­jean, Nico Hulken­berg and Este­ban Ocon.

Q2 was strate­gi­cally the most in­ter­est­ing ses­sion on Sat­ur­day with the top two teams, Mercedes and Fer­rari set­ting their fastest laps on the ul­tra­soft tyre. In con­trast, Ver­stap­pen, who was about to be elim­i­nated, pi­loted his Red Bull to safety on his fi­nal run on the hy­per­softs. Ric­cia­rdo too, sit­ting in 10th, switched to the hy­per­soft, but backed out of his lap when his team knew he was safe – he could start on the ul­tra.

Fur­ther back, there was hope that Alonso could achieve some­thing spe­cial in qual­i­fy­ing on his fi­nal For­mula 1 out­ing. He did man­age to haul his re­cal­ci­trant Mclaren out of Q1 at least, giv­ing him a 21-0 qual­i­fy­ing white­wash over his team-mate Stof­fel Van­doorne in 2018 (it’s ac­tu­ally a 26-race streak that goes back to the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix). Un­for­tu­nately, the Spa­niard could man­age no bet­ter than 15th, be­hind Ser­gio Perez, Kevin Mag­nussen, Mar­cus Eric­s­son and Car­los Sainz.

At least Alonso made it into Q2. The same couldn’t be said for the hap­less Bren­don Hart­ley, who missed the cut by just frac­tions of a sec­ond. The mar­gin be­tween Mag­nussen – who was safe – and the New Zealan­der was 0.060s.

The sec­ond Toro Rosso also failed to es­cape Q3 as Pierre Gasly’s power unit shut down as he was ac­cel­er­at­ing out of the last cor­ner on his fi­nal lap. He joined Van­doorne and the two Wil­liams driv­ers Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll at the back of the grid.

Race

The ef­fects of a long sea­son in com­bi­na­tion with so many driv­ers leav­ing their re­spec­tive teams, meant Sun­day had a sense of ‘last day of term’ about it.

Guards of hon­our were given to Alonso, Ric­cia­rdo and Raikko­nen by their me­chan­ics, while over at Mercedes there was time for some the­atrics with a video posted on­line with Hamil­ton lit­er­ally tied-up. The cul­prit was the movie ac­tor Will Smith who dressed up in Mercedes over­alls and pre­tended to take his race seat.

“We were do­ing some film­ing 10 min­utes be­fore I got in the car, which I never, ever do be­cause that’s usu­ally the time where I get ready,” said Hamil­ton af­ter the race. “So I was go­ing into the race and I had com­pletely changed my pat­tern...”

Will Smith was not done with gen­er­at­ing pub­lic­ity for him­self, as soon af­ter he was seen wav­ing a gi­ant flag of the Emi­rates to send the cars off on their for­ma­tion lap. But the real drama came half-way into the first lap…

With the sun set­ting at the back of the cir­cuit, Hamil­ton led Bot­tas away from the line and the Fer­raris duly fol­lowed in for­ma­tion. But Ver­stap­pen was slow away in his Red Bull with an en­gine sen­sor prob­lem and dropped four places.

As the pack filed 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, Hulken­berg dived late on the brakes to snatch sev­enth from Gros­jean.

As the pair ran wide and ap­proached the right han­der at Turn 9, the Haas driver stayed on the in­side and hugged the apex. Hulken­berg was run­ning along­side as they turned in and didn’t re­alise the Haas was still there. The front-left of Gros­jean clipped Hulken­berg’s right-rear and sent the yel­low Re­nault tum­bling through the air.

Hulken­berg ro­tated alarm­ingly onto his roll-over hoop, then spun over again and landed up­side down, par­tially propped up by the bar­ri­ers. A small fire broke out at the rear of his car which the mar­shals ex­tin­guished, but given his an­gle to the tyre wall and pos­si­bly with the pres­ence of the halo, did not im­me­di­ately climb out from un­der­neath his car.

Thank­fully a team ra­dio mes­sage was broad­cast that clearly ex­plained he was al­right, but had to be bleeped out to hide his in­evitable shock and frus­tra­tion. The safety car was in­stantly de­ployed and with the ar­rival of the med­i­cal car, Dr Ian Roberts was able to help ad­vise the mar­shals to re­turn the Re­nault to its wheels, which en­abled Hulken­berg to ex­tract him­self un­aided.

“When you are up­side down, it’s not so easy to find all the but­tons be­cause ev­ery­thing feels very dif­fer­ent,” said Hulken­berg. “It was the first time for me to end in the car up­side down.”

Gros­jean was con­cerned for his fel­low com­peti­tor, but not to blame as the stew­ards de­cided that no fur­ther ac­tion was war­ranted for the in­ci­dent. Af­ter four laps be­hind the safety car, rac­ing re­sumed with Hamil­ton ahead of Bot­tas, Vet­tel, Raikko­nen and the fast-start­ing Le­clerc.

Be­hind them, Ver­stap­pen was ea­ger to make up lost time and was ro­bust in his pass on his Brazil­ian GP neme­sis Ocon, lung­ing past the Rac­ing Point Force In­dia at the Turn 7 hair­pin. But with DRS favour­ing the French­man, he was back past the Red Bull on the next straight.

For the next cou­ple of laps, at­ten­tion was fo­cused on this on-track duel and the TV broad­cast even re­played their Brazil­ian col­li­sion as if to em­pha­sise the po­ten­tial for an­other clash. Ver­stap­pen fi­nally made the move stick – again with a force­ful, el­bows out shove – at Turn 7.

Up ahead, Le­clerc was ahead of Raikko­nen for fourth, which was partly ex­plained when the Fer­rari lost elec­tri­cal power com­ing out of the fi­nal cor­ner. Sta­tion­ary on the start-fin­ish line, there was no choice but for race con­trol to ac­ti­vate the vir­tual safety car to re­cover the Finn’s stricken ma­chine.

Tak­ing ad­van­tage of the re­duced time lost while pit­ting un­der the VSC, Mercedes ra­dioed Hamil­ton into the pits for his soli­tary stop. He emerged fifth be­hind the Red Bulls, as both Le­clerc and Gros­jean em­ployed the same strat­egy.

On lap 15, Fer­rari at­tempted the ‘un­der­cut’ on sec­ond-placed Bot­tas and called Vet­tel in for his pit­stop, but as the right-rear was slow to come off his car, the plan was scup­pered. Bot­tas stopped one lap later (like­wise Ver­stap­pen an­other tour later) and he kept his po­si­tion ahead of the Fer­rari.

The sec­ond Red Bull of Ric­cia­rdo in­her­ited the lead and the team de­cided to keep the Aus­tralian out for a longer stint as his lap times were still com­pet­i­tive.

As the race neared half-dis­tance re­ports came in of thun­der­storms nearby. In this dry and arid land, a few sprin­kles of rain fell onto the cir­cuit and if it had in­creased for the need to take in­ter­me­di­ate tyres, then Ric­cia­rdo was in a prime po­si­tion to take ad­van­tage. On lap 21 he was lead­ing Hamil­ton by 6.4s and was the only one of the top six not to make a pit­stop.

Red Bull left Dan out, know­ing that an­other VSC would be ben­e­fi­cial. But by lap 33, with no VSC or sig­nif­i­cant rain­fall, he pit­ted and emerged in fifth be­hind Ver­stap­pen.

A lap later, Bot­tas suf­fered a lock-up into Turn 5 and was passed by Vet­tel for sec­ond place. Three laps later Ver­stap­pen made an­other of his trade­mark ro­bust moves and mus­cled his way past Bot­tas at the Turn 12-13 chi­cane, bang­ing wheels and caus­ing the Finn to suf­fer a slow punc­ture.

With three laps to go, the re­tir­ing Alonso was el­e­vated to 11th and just 3.3s off Mag­nussen for 10th. His race en­gi­neer Will Joseph told the Spa­niard to “go and get a point”, to which a typ­i­cally blunt re­sponse emerged from the cock­pit of the or­ange Mclaren. “I’ve al­ready got 1,800.” Not to be out­done, the pit­wall replied with: “Well make it 1,081 for me.”

In the fi­nal laps, Alonso de­cided to cut the chi­canes in his charge to get a point and – like a video game – was struck with three penalties worth five sec­onds each. In the fi­nal clas­si­fi­ca­tion, he kept 11th but it was an ex­traor­di­nary end to a race and a ca­reer.

And for the record, Alonso has 1,899 points, so it would have been nice to have achieved 1,900. But it wasn’t to be. Iron­i­cally, Alonso has made his fi­nal point to F1: give me a de­cent car and I’ll be back…

Hulken­berg’s fi­nal out­ing of the sea­son ended in dra­matic style

Ver­stap­pen was forced to fight back af­ter a botched get­away

Alonso’s fi­nal race for Mclaren in F1 was cel­e­brated af­ter the event

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