F1 – Abu Dhabi GP – Race

Salam, MiniFans! Alas, the last race of the season is finally upon us. After many new things, such as double headers in the same circuit or drivers missing races due to positive tests, we are ending up in the same place we’ve done for years now. Abu Dhabi welcomes the circus once again with the championship winners decided, but it still offers some loose ends that we need to tie, such as runner-up and the ‘best of the rest’ driver and team. So, shall we begin?

Yesterday’s qualifying already marked a difference with previous years, with Verstappen shimming into a pole position that had only been stolen away from the Mercedes team by another Mercedes powered team once this year. McLaren is also very well positioned to try and take over third in the championship but we can’t forget how quick Racing Point has been lately, despite Pérez starting second to last due to a penalty. Tyres were evenly distributed, with drivers outside of the top ten going for both mediums and hards, while the softs were constrained to those who made it into Q3 with them.

The start was surprisingly clean, with just a couple of positions swapped but no collisions among drivers. Verstappen started slowly but steadily opening a small gap tenth by tenth over Bottas as the train settled. Only Pérez and Magnussen were occasionally making up places and Renault made Ocon and Ricciardo exchange positions despite the Australian having hard tyres. The team order was fruitful, as he could open up a small gap over his teammate in order to get close to the Alpha Tauris.

It was Pérez’s engine giving up on him that prompted the first wave of stops under the virtual safety car for those on softs and mediums, except for Leclerc. Once those were done, race direction called for a full safety car, as it was proving difficult to take the Racing Point out of the way, despite it being parked right beside an extraction point. Only the ones with hard tyres and Leclerc, on mediums, were left out of the stops. The restart was as clean as the first one and Sainz managed to overtake Leclerc and set his sight on Vettel, getting the overtake a handful of laps after this. Stroll, the only Racing Point left on track, tried to emulate Sainz but Leclerc didn’t allow it at first. The only Spaniard on track was announced to be under investigation due to being too slow in the pit lane to allow his team to double stack the cars more easily.

Leclerc finally pitted to get rid of his medium tyres in lap 23, relegating him to last place, a handful of seconds behind Fittipaldi. It was around this time that Ricciardo, one of the few who hadn’t stopped, seemed to start having problems at some points, with Norris getting closer, but he solved them with a personal fast lap. Some radio messages, by Verstappen and Hamilton, were broadcasted saying that the hard tyres may not be enough to last through to the end of the race. The usual race simulation in the free practices Had been halted by Raikkonen’s car setting on fire, so there wasn’t much information available about the durability of the white rimmed tires. The only one who hadn’t stopped and didn’t look like he was in any kind of pickle was Ricciardo, still going strong in fifth and keeping a great pace, even gaining time on Norris at some points. Vettel finally got new medium tyres with nineteen laps to go.

Even after reporting a flat spot on his tyres, Hamilton was sometimes very slowly chipping away at the time that separated him and his teammate, it didn’t last long. Ricciardo, asked about his preference on the new tyre choice, became more aggressive, indicating his imminent stop. When he finally committed to it, in lap 40, Renault gave him a medium tyre and got him out in front of Gasly, having lost only two places to both McLaren. Mercedes gave the instruction to Bottas to give everything he had, maybe indicating they had been saving tyres. However, the Finnish driver did not only not decrease the gap to Verstappen, but rather increased it. It was Hamilton who was finally making the distance between him and his teammate smaller, yet his pace didn’t stick and he dropped back once again. Albon got slightly closer but not enough with the amount of laps left. Meanwhile, his teammate was basically doing an honour lap before he crossed the last checkered flag of the season in first place for his tenth victory in F1. He was only robbed of a grand chelem by Ricciardo, who stole the fastest lap in his last attempt.

The year is finally over in one of those weird seasons everyone will always remember. It’s not only missing the fans on the grandstands or the strict protocols all the paddock inhabitants have needed to follow, but also the strange races, the ones we always hope for yet barely get. Just looking at the overall standings, it may not look as crazy as it has actually been. More than half the grid has stepped on the podium this year, Gasly and Pérez have won races, Ferrari has completely disappeared from the top, save for three solitary podiums, Hulkenberg came back to save the day in three races for Racing Point, Grosjean survived what would have been a deadly accident just a couple of years ago and George Russell saw his brief adventure with Mercedes truncated due to miscommunication on the team’s part. It may have been shorter than usual but it certainly didn’t lack any entertainment. Mercedes came out on top again, winning both the driver’s and the team’s championships but, even with their clear superiority, races could be enjoyed away from them due to the close fight for the ‘best of the rest’ title. Here’s to an equally fun 2021 season.