Goodbyes aplenty as Verstappen wins the season finale, Hamilton returns and McLaren take 3rd in the Constructors: 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Review

Incredibly, 23 weeks on from F1 getting its first race of 2020 underway in Austria, Abu Dhabi hosted the final curtain call of a hectic 17 race schedule [The winner Max Verstappen is featured above; image from formula1.com]. The twilight of Yas Marina was always going to be an emotional race for the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo leaving Ferrari, McLaren and Renault respectively. It could also have been the last F1 race in a 10-year career for Sergio Perez, but also potentially the last race for Red Bull drivers Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat with neither driver having a drive. It was certainly the last race of Kevin Magnussen’s 7 season F1 career as he will be racing sports cars in 2021.

Yes Marina Circuit map [Image from formula1.com].

Surprisingly, overtaking is difficult around the Yas Marina Circuit. It has a layout you would have thought invites overtaking but it is extremely difficult on this circuit and 2020 was no exception. It was, therefore, a bit of a lacklustre, anti-climatic way to end the season after the chaotic race that proceeded it a week before in Sakhir. A lot of that was perhaps due to the Safety Car being deployed on lap 9 and all but three cars (Ricciardo, Vettel and Leclerc) pitting then and attempting to not stop again until the chequered flag.

However, there was the intrigue of what would happen in the battle to finish 3rd in the Constructors between Racing Point and McLaren. Also, I doubt Max Verstappen would have complained about the lack of action either with the top 4 positions not changing after lap 6 and even more satisfying given Lewis Hamilton was back after his battle with Covid.

2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying

Q1: 1st Lewis Hamilton, 1:35.528……………15th Antonio Giovinazzi 1:37.075; 16th Kimi Raikkonen +0.480, 17th Kevin Magnussen +0.788, 18th George Russell +0.960, 19th Pietro Fittipaldi +1.080, 20th Nicholas Latifi +1.350

Q2: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:35.466………10th Pierre Gasly 1:36.282; 11th Esteban Ocon +0.077, 12th Daniel Ricciardo +0.124, 13th Sebastian Vettel +0.349, 14th Antonio Giovinazzi +1.966, 15th Sergio Perez (no time set).

Q3: 1st Max Verstappen 1:35.246, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +0.025, 3rd Lewis Hamilton +0.086, 4th Lando Norris +0.251, 5th Alex Albon +0.325, 6th Carlos Sainz +0.569, 7th Daniil Kvyat +0.717, 8th Lance Stroll +0.800, 9th Charles Leclerc +0.819, 10th Pierre Gasly +0.996

Max Verstappen dominated proceedings in Abu Dhabi after taking his first pole position of the year. [Image from Eurosport].

Max Verstappen had a terrific Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He has threatened Mercedes so often in 2020 but was truly on top here taking his first pole position of the year right at the end of Q3 with a terrific effort. Verstappen was thought to have a better long-run pace and we saw it as he led from the start, maintaining position through the Safety car period and the subsequent restart. He controlled the race brilliantly with only reliability potentially going to spoil his day, even asking the team if they wanted to turn the engine down as he was that comfortable finishing 15s ahead of the lead Mercedes. It’s not often that has happened in 2020 and it was a terrific effort from Verstappen who was cruelly denied his first career Grand Slam (Pole, win, led every lap and fastest lap) by his old teammate Daniel Ricciardo. His most dominant and commanding victory to date?

Given Mercedes have been so dominant, particularly around Abu Dhabi in the hybrid era (five successive front row lockouts and six successive wins), it was surprising to see them ultimately off the pace. Was that due to them running more worn engine parts or purely performance? If it’s the latter, then we may have an exciting 2021 in-store with an interesting battle between them and Red Bull. If it’s the former, then coupled with Mercedes increasing attention to their 2021 car then we could also just see more of the same Mercedes dominance. That said, Valtteri Bottas recovered from his disappointing Bahrain fortnight to at least be the lead Mercedes. Having out-qualified Hamilton for only the fifth time this year, such is his luck even that wasn’t good enough for pole position and could not get anywhere near Verstappen in the race.

Lewis Hamilton struggled with fitness during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, should he have returned so quickly? [Image form Motorsport Week].

I was slightly surprised to see Lewis Hamilton back racing so soon after his experience with Coronavirus. He’d tested negative several times before travelling to Abu Dhabi but was he really in the right shape? After Qualifying, he told Sky F1 he was still struggling and the impact of the 55 lap race was noticeable as he held his lower abdomen in the post-race interviews. A race driver will always want to race but given Hamilton was romping to victories, in the form of his career before contracting Covid it could be asked was it in his best interests to race so soon? While he topped the first two parts of Qualifying, he didn’t have the pace when it mattered most and never really looked like challenging Bottas or Verstappen ahead. If anything, he looked close to losing his podium spot in the closing laps as the other red Bull closed in.

A consistent drive from Alex Albon but has he done enough to convince Red Bull he’s their man? [Image from Autosport].

While Alex Albon arguably had his most consistent Grand Prix of 2020, coming at the last race of the year and without a podium to show for it, it may not be enough to save his F1 seat as Ted Kravitz believes that Red Bull will sign Sergio Perez for 2021. The Thai driver struggled a bit in Qualifying and perhaps the Red Bull bosses would not have been happy seeing him being beaten by a McLaren. He made up for it in the race and was able to stay close enough to the Mercedes pair to provided a threat if they wanted to stop a second time. He was closing up to Hamilton in the closing stages but left with that ‘if the race was a couple of laps longer‘ feeling. Will it be enough for him to stay at Red Bull or did it come too late?

2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Result

1st Max Verstappen 1:36:28.645,
2nd Valtteri Bottas +15.976, 3rd lewis Hamilton +18.415, 4th Alex Albon +19.987, 5th Lando Norris +60.729, 6th Carlos Sainz +65.662, 7th Daniel Ricciardo +73.748, 8th Pierre Gasly +89.718, 9th Esteban Ocon +101,069, 10th Lance Stroll +102.738, 11th Daniil Kvyat +1 Lap, 12th Kimi Raikkonen +1 Lap, 13th Charles Leclerc +1 Lap, 14th Sebastian Vettel +1 Lap, 15th George Russell +1 Lap, 16th Antonio Giovinazzi +1 Lap, 17th Nicholas Latifi +1 Lap, 18th Kevin Magnussen +1 Lap, 19th Pietro Fittipaldi +1 Lap, Sergio Perez DNF

Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo 1:40.926

Now to the Constructors Championship battle for 3rd! With racing Point arriving into Abu Dhabi 17 points clear in 3rd after their terrific result at the Sakhir Grand Prix, they were favourites ahead of McLaren in 4th. Renault were rank outsiders a further 10 points back in 5th. With an estimated $10m difference from 3rd to 5th in prize money, it was big for these teams.

Sadly if that is Sergio Perez’s final race in F1, it ended early. [Image form formula1.com].

Despite the points advantage, Racing Point were on the backfoot with Sergio Perez taking engine penalties and starting at the back of the grid. It all counted for nothing though in the end as the Mexcian suffered an engine issue and pulled up on lap 8 prompting the Safety Car. After 10 years in F1, 191 starts, 133 with the team, it all came to a sorry end for Perez. It will be criminal if he is not on the F1 grid in 2021, it really will. Lance Stroll qualified 8th and made a decent start getting ahead of Kvyat nit it all untangled from the Safety Car. Losing places there and feeling he’d particularly been impeded by Sainz, it seems his head and pace dropped. The Canadian fell backwards being overtaken by Gasly and then Oco on the final lap as he finished 10th to collect the final lap when really they could and should have finished higher.

What happened in the pit lane though?

With several teams looking to capitalise on the VSC/SC period to pit for fresh tyres with less time loss, the pit lane was busy with a handful double stacking their cars. It was brave of Mercedes to do it again so soon after their ‘colossal f*** up’ in Skater but it’s McLaren we need to look at here. With his teammate ahead, Carlos Sainz needed to have enough of a gap to not be compromised. He seemed to brake slowly for the pit entry speed limit with Stroll right behind him and again after? Sainz pitted and came out in 9th, Stroll 10th.  Drivers can certainly be penalised for this with Lewis Hamilton taking a 5s time penalty in Bahrain last year. The stewards ultimately didn’t act until post-race as they didn’t have all the telemetry they needed but no further action was taken. The incident can be viewed here

Did the McLaren of Carlos Sainz unfairly hold up the Racing Point of Lance Stroll? [Image from formula1.com].

It was a surprise to see no further action but it only a disproportionate penalty of a race disqualification would have changed the result in terms of the Constructors Championship. Otmar Szafneur didn’t get drawn on it in his post-race comments, instead insisting, ‘It’s been a year of missed opportunities for several reasons – including more than our fair share of bad luck that cost us valuable points. We will take the disappointment tonight in our stride and focus on the positives of an incredibly strong season where we enjoyed some great moments.‘ Racing Point also lost 15 points earlier in the season after Renault’s complaints about the legality of their car. How much would they have loved those points back. That said, Stroll certainly felt he was held up. 

McLaren have slowly gotten into Grand Prix weekends this year but Abu Dhabi, when they really needed a big result, the Woking squad nailed it. Qualifying saw both cars get into Q3 to give them a big advantage over Racing Point with Lando Norris even getting on the second row ahead of Albon. The Brit got into a nice rhythm after Albon passed in the early stages but managed his pace well even after coming out from the pits behind Ricciardo, driving well at the front of the midfield pack to finish 5th. Sainz wasn’t that far behind and finished in an equally strong 6th in his final race before moving to Ferrari. The Spaniard passed both after losing ground behind the Safety Car and while he didn’t catch Norris he scored enough points that cemented 3rd in the Constructors for McLaren in another strong year for the Woking team.

Abu Dhabi brings an end to the Lando Norris (left) and Carlos Sainz partnership at McLaren. [Image from formula1.com].

It will be all change at McLaren next year. Sainz ‘leaves with our best wishes in his next chapter in Formula 1‘ for Ferrari while they will also have a Mercedes power unit in the car next year. It will be interesting to see how McLaren build on this. 

With their relative lack of Qualifying pace, it was perhaps always going to be a challenge for Renault to finish 3rd in the standings with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon qualifying 11th and 12th respectively but both scored points after good solid drives. In his final race for Renault, Ricciardo struggled to make progress from 11th on fresher tyres but the key to his race was tyre management and strategy by staying out at the Safety Car. He was 5th before pitting on lap 39 and had opened up enough of a gap to come back out in 7th which is where he finished after being unable to challenge the McLaren’s in front on fresher tyres.

Ocon had out-qualified Ricciardo for the first time in dry conditions and had a decent start before team orders came in the way and he allowed the honey badger through on lap 6. Pitting during the Safety Car didn’t benefit him as he fell to 14th but he recovered with a strong drive passing Giovinazzi,, both Ferrari’s on track as well as an excellent final lap lunge on Stroll to finish 9th. It was a decent race drive from Ocon who now has Fernando Alonso as his teammate next year in the newly rebranded Alpine team.

Incoming driver Fernando Alonso was reunited with an old friend. [Image from formula1.com].

Alonso also featured during the Grand Prix weekend taking his 2005 Championship winning Renault around for a spin. That was the only other car to take to the Yas Marina Circuit while usually there are support races such as F2 and F3 in attendance in Abu Dhabi, Could that have made an impact on the relative lack of grip drivers experienced? Perhaps but even more surprising was his presence in the ‘Young Drivers test’ in the days since the Grand Prix.

Pierre Gasly put in a very strong drive to finish 8th. [Image from formula1.com].

Alpha Tauri have consistently scored points in 2020 and did so again in Abu Dhabi. They had decent pace in practice and that translated into both cars getting into Q3. Daniil Kvyat took the Qualifying honours in 7th but after a decent start found himself ‘a sitting duck’ due to understeer and he soon lost ground to Stroll and his teammate which proved costly in pitting behind the Safety Car and while he came back against the Ferrari’s he could only finish 11th. Pierre Gasly had the better race pace passing both Ocon and Kvyat before the Safety Car. After the pit stops, he made several notable overtakes on Leclerc, Stroll and Vettel on the space of 12 laps. If not for him, it would have been an even more dull affair but had he been able to make these passes sooner, he could’ve been ahead of Ricciardo when he eventually pitted but 8th and collecting points for the 10th time this season caps off a campaign in which he has excelled.

That was Daniil Kyat’s final Grand Prix [Image from Scuderia AlphaTauri]

For Daniil Kvyat, he will by replaced by Nicky Tsunoda in 2021. How would you describe his F1 career? Certainly exciting, there was always a story. He had his chance with the big team before being unceremoniously dumped in favour of Verstappen; a decision that has ultimately paid off. He’s had podiums so he’s a good driver but just not consistent enough when it has mattered unfortunately. 

2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Points

Drivers:
Max Verstappen 25, Valtteri Bottas 18, Lewis Hamilton 15, Alex Albon 12, Lando Norris 10, Carlos Sainz 8, Daniel Ricciardo 7, Pierre Gasly 4, Esteban Ocon 2, Lance Stroll 1

Constructors:
Red Bull 37, Mercedes 33, McLaren 18, Renault 9, Alpha Tauri 4, Racing Point 1

For #Seb5 this was his final race with Ferrari. [Image from Autosport].

Ferrari have struggled a lot in 2020 and Abu Dhabi was typical of that. In his final race for the Scuderia, Sebastian Vettel had a disappointing result. Failing to get into Q3, Vettel had the getter start getting ahead of Leclerc and remained ahead as Ferrari decided to keep both cars out at the Safety Car. Staying out benefited Vettel more initially as he was on the more durable tyre but keeping him out longer to try and help his teammate’s race meant he ultimately finished behind Leclerc in a disappointing 14th. Could they have split strategies? Charles Leclerc got into Q3 but was always going to be compromised by the three-place grid penalty he earned for the Sakhir incident. The Monegasque could only manage a few more laps after the Safety Car before his tyres went off the cliff and had to stop on lap 22. Coming out in 19th, he climbed back but could only finish 13th and nowhere near the points.

After 5 years, that is Sebastian Vettel’s spell with Ferrari over. With 14 wins and 12 podiums, in terms of race results, he is statistically the third-best driver in Ferrari history but ultimately, he couldn’t deliver that elusive world championship against the Hamilton and Mercedes juggernaut. While he reminisced the turning point may well have been when he crashed out of the 2018 German Grand Prix while leading, it was nice seeing the emotional tributes between the two teammates.

Writing on Leclerc’s helmet, Vettel descried the Monegasque as ‘ the most talented driver I came across in 15 years of F1. Don’t waste it. But be sure whatever you do to be happy and smile. Thanks for everything!’ Meanwhile, Leclerc took to Twitter to send the below message to Vettel…

Kimi Raikkonen finished ahead of both Ferrari’s in 12th. [Image from formula1.com].

Alfa Romeo finished at the head of the lower pack with Antonio Giovinazzi getting into Q2 for the second successive race and while he didn’t finish at the head of this group it was his teammate Kimi Raikkonen who did. The key to Raikkonen’s race was getting ahead of his teammate at the start and pitting behind the Safety car. This enabled him to fight back and the Iceman used all of his experience to hold off the pressure from the two Ferrari’s to finish a decent 12th. Giovinazzi didn’t pit behind Safety car, doing so instead on lap 27. That put the Italian towards the back of the field and while he made some progress passing both Haas cars and Latifi, he was unable to get ahead of Russell. He finished a fairly disappointing 16th after what having a fairly strong second half of the 2020 campaign.

George Russell was back at Williams and extracted the most he could out of the car. [Image from GPFans].

Even though Williams ultimately failed to score point in 2020, they weren’t propping up the field at the final race of the year indicating they have in fact made progress. George Russell was back leading the team after his weekend with Mercedes and came back down to earth. The Brit was fighting for pole in Sakhir, but he could not get the Williams into Q2 as he has so often done in 2020 but ahead of Nicholas Latifi. Russell delivered ‘an optimised race’ battling the Alfa Romeo’s as he finished 15th. Latifi came home behind Giovinazzi in 17th having been unable to extract as much performance from the underperforming Williams as his teammate at a track that didn’t really suit the car.

Haas had a very difficult season finale. [Image from RaceFans.net].

Haas haven’t really updated their car much this year and it showed in Abu Dhabi as they really struggled for performance. In only his second and final F1 race as a stand-in, Pietro Fittipaldi was always going to struggle. It’s a tough ask but at least he didn’t finish 20th. The Brazilian finished as the last classified finisher but was compromised by a second pit stop to deal with an overheating issue so you can’t rate him too harshly as at least he finished both races. Kevin Magnussen, in his final F1 race delivered as much as he could in the car. The Danish driver out-qualified his far less experienced teammate as you’d expect and finished ahead in the race and despite gaining positions on the opening lap, he just did not have the car to compete in and finished ahead of only Fittipaldi as Gunther Steiner admit Haas have a lot of work to do ‘to get out of the whole we’re in at the moment’.

For Kevin Magnussen, with Mick Schumacher and Nikia Mazepin coming into F1, it is the end of his spell and he’ll be racing in Sportscars next year. At the age of 28, it does feel a bit too soon but after a very promising debut in which he finished on the podium for McLaren, he never quite hit those heights again. I was slightly surprised Haas did not want to retain an experienced head to try and help steer development alongside a rookie but that isn’t what’s happening. It’s a shame but he knows he’s been blessed, ‘I’m happy to have had the opportunity to have raced in F1, it was my childhood dream. I’m sad to be leaving on such a bad performance.

2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Ratings

Drivers:
Max Verstappen 10, Valtteri Bottas 7.5, Lewis Hamilton 7, Alex Albon 6.5, Lando Norris 9, Carlos Sainz 8, Daniel Ricciardo 9, Pierre Gasly 8, Esteban Ocon 7.5, Lance Stroll 5.5, Daniil Kvyat 6, Kimi Raikkonen 8, Charles Leclerc 5.5, Sebastian Vettel 6, George Russell 7, Antonio Giovinazzi 5.5, Nicholas Latifi 5.5, Kevin Magnussen 6, Pietro Fittipaldi 6, Sergio Perez 6

Constructors:
Red Bull 9, Mercedes 7.5, McLaren 8.5, Renault 8, Alpha Tauri 7, Racing Point 5.5, Alfa Romeo 6.5, Ferrari 5.5, Williams 6, Haas 4.5

At the end of the 17 race season, we already knew Mercedes and red Bull would finish 1st and 2nd in the Constructors but Mercedes win their 7th successive title by a whopping 254 points. In the battle for 3rd, the honours went to McLaren who overturned a 17 point deficit to Racing Point and finished on 202 points. Renault finished 5th on 181 points while Ferrari finished their difficult year on 131 points in 6th. Alpha Tauri finished 7th on 107 points, the most points they’ve ever scored in an F1 season. The bottom three remained Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams who finished without scoring a point.

In the Drivers Championship, Lewis Hamilton had already won his 7th championship but finished 124 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas. In fact, Mercedes would’ve won the Constructors with Hamilton’s points alone. Max Verstappen’s victory was not enough to catch Bottas, he finished 3rd. despite not scoring, Sergio Perez (125pts) finished an impressive 4th, 6 points ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in 5th. Carlos Sainz and Alex Albon finished on equal points but courtesy of finishing 2dn at Monza, Sainz took 6th. Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris were separated by only a point while Monza dictated the final places of the top 10 with Pierre Gasly’s win giving him the final spot in the top 10 at the expense of Lance Stroll.

Esteban Ocon marked his return to F1 with 61 points in 11th. Sebastian Vettel finished his final campaign with Ferrari in a very disappointing 12th and only one point ahead of Daniil Kvyat. The Alfa Romeo pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi finished on equal points (4 each), George Russell on 3 points ahead of the Haas par off Romain Grosjean (2) and Kevin Magnussen (1) in their final F1 campaigns. Nicholas Latifi finished his debut season with no points.

Well, that was the last race of 2020. Again, it must be said a huge congratulations and thank you to the FIA, F1, Liberty Media, the race organisers, the circuits who stood up to the plate, the teams, their staff and the drivers as well as the tv crews, basically anyone who helped put this season together under the circumstances of the global pandemic. With not much to do in terms of socialising, I’ve enjoyed watching the action at home and writing my views on it. It has been a big help this year having that to distract and i’m looking forward to another year of action in 2021 which was only 96 days away from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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