Hamilton completes dominant season with easy Abu Dhabi GP victory from Verstappen and Leclerc

The season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix turned out to be something of a serene victory parade for Lewis Hamilton, after the newly crowned world champion cruised to an easy fifth victory at Yas Marina to win from Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, who escaped a post race investigation for an alleged breach of fuel regulations to finish third.

Valtteri Bottas was an impressive fourth despite starting from the back of the grid as a result of an engine change, his defiant charge through the field also hampered by a rare FIA technical issue that disabled DRS until lap 18.

“Wow guys, what a race, what a weekend. I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who is here, back home. I’ve got to say this one is for the fans,” said Hamilton as fireworks launched into the Abu Dhabi night sky.

“Honestly, I’m proud, definitely,” continued Hamilton to Sky Sports’ David Coulthard after stepping from the car. “I’m just super grateful for an incredible team, to all at Mercedes who continue to push this year. Who would have thought at the end of the year that we would have this strength in the race. Even though we had the championship won, we really wanted to keep our heads down and try to see if we could learn, and see if we could extend and extract more from this beautiful car that they have worked… you know it’s a piece of art.”

Hamilton, who wrapped up the drivers’ title two races prior at the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, was never troubled after holding off Verstappen into the first corner, the Red Bull overtaken by Leclerc at Turn 11 before regaining his position soon after.

Behind the leaders, is was not so simple, Pierre Gasly literally coming back down to earth with a bump after being tapped by one Racing Point in the form of Sergio Perez into another in Lance Stroll. It cost him his front wing and a lengthy pit stop that put him to the rear of the field and effectively ended his race.

With Leclerc reporting ‘weird vibrations’ through his tyres, he was the first of the big hitters to stop for a new set of hard compound tyres on lap 13 with Vettel immediately behind. It proved unlucky lap 13 for the German, who was left stranded for a couple of seconds too long after the front left tyre didn’t attach properly.

Despite DRS not enabled until lap 18, the flying Bottas found himself up to and in position to challenge for a podium, but it was Hamilton who was the first of the Mercedes to stop for the hard tyre on lap 27, a lap later than Verstappen. But all was not well with the Red Bull, the Dutchman reporting ‘massive lag’ out of the corners.

A neat stop from Bottas on lap 30 meant an exciting race to the finish, for the podium positions at least, with Hamilton still in a race of his own out front. Despite his constant grumbles over lag out of the corner, Verstappen was still able to pass Leclerc’s Ferrari with an opportunistic dive down the inside on lap 32.

The move triggered a strategy switch for Ferrari, Leclerc diving in on lap 39 for soft tyres to take him to the end, Vettel for mediums straight after. With Bottas making the move stick on Albon, he still found himself behind Leclerc with 15 laps to go to the finish. And, with a few laps remaining and engine mode turned up to qualifying mode, Bottas gave it his all to secure the podium on track, with Leclerc’s post-race stewards enquiry still pending.

It made for a grandstand finish, Bottas swarming all over the back of the Ferrari but Leclerc holding firm to finish third behind Verstappen.

“At the end of the day, it wouldn’t have made a difference in terms of position,” commented Verstappen on his engine issues. “We had to do a bit of a different strategy to Ferrari, of course. They pitted quite early and we went long because they overtook us on the first lap but after that I think our pace was quite decent, just Mercedes and Lewis today were a bit too quick. Overall, as a whole, I think it has been a positive season and, of course, to be P3 in the championship is a nice ending.”

“I am extremely happy about this year,” added Leclerc. “I have learned a huge amount thanks to Seb and yes, it’s been a great year and a realisation of a dream since I was a child to be in Formula One but especially with Ferrari. To be now with this team is unbelievable and now it’s up to me to work, to get better and hopefully give them the success they deserve.”

Behind the top six, it was an equally exciting, and important, race to the flag with final midfield constructors’ and drivers’ placings still to be decided. With Perez passing Lando Norris for seventh on the final lap, it meant Sainz pipped Gasly for sixth in the drivers’ standings ahead of Albon, Daniel Ricciardo and Perez.

Renault remained fifth in the constructors’ standings despite both drivers just missing out on the points, Daniil Kvyat’s ninth place finish not enough to close the gap for Toro Rosso, who finished ahead of Racing Point, Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams Racing.

But the plaudits, and final words, must go to the superb Hamilton, who finished the season with his highest ever points tally thanks to his eleven victories, a new lap record confirming his superiority with an extra point into the bargain, just for good measure.

“I’m also so grateful to team LH. I travel around the world to 21 different countries, probably even more and get to see people who continuously inspire me and send me messages and lift me up,” added Hamilton. “So I want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s here, everyone else back home. Thank you for watching, thank you for supporting. I feel so happy with today, man.”

Fraser Masefield

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.