Verstappen wins processional Abu Dhabi GP from Bottas and Hamilton

Max Verstappen finished off his Formula One season in style by winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, taking the chequered flag ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.

After what has been a phenomenal effort to manage 17 races in a season affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the incredible dramas of the back-to-back Bahrain races, this was a processional race more akin to the final stage of the Tour de France.

There was still much to play for, however, especially regarding the battle for the key places in the constructors’ standings. And, following the highs of his emotional Sakhir Grand Prix victory, there was early disappointment for Sergio Perez, the Mexican grinding to a halt on lap 10 in his last race for the BWT Racing Point team with an oil pressure problem.

It left Lance Stroll as the lone gunner in the battle against McLaren and Renault, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz coming home in fifth and sixth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, as Esteban Ocon overtook Stroll for ninth on the final lap.

It meant that Mercedes overtook Racing Point for that valuable third spot in the standings by just seven points on the final count, as Renault finished fifth ahead of Ferrari.

“A little bit sad leaving the team this way, but I told my boys, some of them were crying there at the end, you just have to remember what happened last weekend, what happened in the entire season,” said Perez afterward. “It wasn’t an easy year for us. We still managed to finish P4 in the drivers’ championship, we missed two races with COVID, reliability issues hit us really hard this season.

“In the end it’s a shame we just missed out on third in the constructors’ championship. Well done to McLaren, they really deserve that, they’ve done a tremendous job with the car they’ve had, the drivers they’ve delivered weekend after weekend, so well done to them.”

“It was really enjoyable, yesterday already, of course,” said race winner Verstappen. “Today we had a good start and from then of course you look after the tyres but he car was having really good balance and it was really enjoyable out there today. We did basically everything alright. Once you start at the front, you can control the pace a bit more and it makes your life a bit easier.”

Verstappen experience few concerns in what was a lonely race out front, apart from minor vibrations with his tyres late on as they came to the end of their lifespan.

“I saw that they were dropping off behind me so I could take it a bit easier. Of course I had to go through a bit of traffic, the backmarkers, but overall it was just a very strong race.”

After the events of Bahrain, the start was incident free, with all drivers thankfully making it around the opening lap without incident.

There were also relatively few big movers, the outgoing Kevin Magnussen making up three places as Perez dropped to the back. Worse was to follow from the Sakhir GP winner, the Mexican pulling to the side of the road on lap 10 in his last race for the BWT Racing Point team.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, as Perez had a new engine component fitted, meaning he had to start from the back anyway. It meant a Virtual Safety Car and a chance for a ‘free’ pit stop for new rubber. With oil on the track, the VSC became a full Safety Car and that negated Verstappen’s advantage.

It mattered not, Verstappen still able to pull clear as the Mercedes duo for once had no answer to his pace. Behind the leaders, Sebastian Vettel was doing a good job of keeping a train of cars behind him before eventually pitting on lap 36 for a new set of tyres.

It was no good for Stroll, however, as he lost a bunch of time in the process and just couldn’t find enough pace to mount a challenge and protect Racing Point’s ten-point advantage in the constructors’ standings.

For newly crowned 7-time world champion Hamilton, it was a somewhat subdued end to another quite brilliant season. And he admitted afterwards that his recovery from coronavirus had left him physically drained during the final weekend.

“You can’t win them all,” said Hamilton afterwards. “I think considering the past couple of weeks I’ve had, I’m really generally happy with the weekend. It’s obviously not 100%, it’s not as good as I’d like but congratulations to Max, that was a really hard race for me physically. All year I’ve been fine, but today I definitely wasn’t, so I’m just glad it’s over. A big, big thank you to the team, their continued support. It’s still a fantastic result to get a podium, two podium finishes.

“Physically I don’t think I’ve ever been so blown. But look on the bright side, I made it through. I didn’t think any time last week that I’d be here and so I’m really truly grateful for my health and to be alive and looking forward to recovering over the next period of time and to get back into training, get my body back to where I know it should be.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.