Verstappen eases to victory in unspectacular Abu Dhabi GP
By Mat Coch
Monday 14th December, 2020 - 2:03am
Max Verstappen put in a commanding performance to ease his way to victory in an unspectacular Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver led every one of the race’s 55 laps to take the chequered flag from Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.
It marked the first time in the turbo-hybrid era that Mercedes had not won the season-ending event.
Alex Albon finished in fourth while Daniel Ricciardo opted for a contra-strategy to end his Renault career in a strong seventh behind both McLarens.
From pole, Verstappen maintained his advantage out front from Bottas, Hamilton, and Lando Norris in a start without incident.
Pierre Gasly moved up to ninth on the opening tour, Ricciardo in the second Renault 11th as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc held down 12th and 13th.
After losing out to Esteban Ocon on the opening lap, Gasly reclaimed ninth midway around the second lap, diving underneath his countryman at the end of the back straight.
Race leader Verstappen extended a two second advantage in the opening laps to ensure he was clear of the DRS zone by the time it was activated.
Of the leaders, Norris in fourth was the only one under serious threat, with Albon harrying the McLaren in the early laps.
The Red Bull driver made the move stick on Lap 6 into Turn 8, then fending off the counter attack at Turn 11 to maintain the spot.
As that happened, Ricciardo found a way by Ocon to move up to 10th, quickly pulling away from his team-mate as he immediately began to reel in Gasly ahead.
Daniil Kvyat slipped to ninth, losing out firstly to Lance Stroll before Gasly too found a way through.
Sergio Perez’s race came to an early end, climbing out of his Racing Point on Lap 9 and triggering a Virtual Safety Car to allow his stricken car to be recovered from the approach to Turn 20.
It prompted the field into the pits, with the exception of Ricciardo and the two Ferraris which moved up to fifth, seventh and eighth respectively.
As the field rejoined, the full Safety Car was deployed to allow Perez’s car, which seemed stuck in gear, to be cleared via a crane.
The race resumed at the start of Lap 14, with Verstappen from Bottas, Hamilton, Albon, and Ricciardo.
Carlos Sainz moved by Leclerc into Turn 8 shortly after the restart, easily seeing off his future team-mate into Turn 11 to confirm himself in eighth place.
The Ferrari driver then slipped behind Stroll on Lap 16 briefly, but was able to cruise back by on the run out of Turn 9.
Up to road, Sainz had closed in on Vettel as the pair battled over seventh, the Spaniard getting by at Turn 11 on Lap 17.
Despite his march forward, Sainz came under the attentions of the stewards as they looking at him for driving unnecessarily slowly in pit lane under the Virtual Safety Car triggered by Perez’s retirement earlier in the race.
On Lap 19 Stroll had another bite at Leclerc, taking ninth place on the run to Turn 8 and this time maintaining the position into the braking zone at Turn 11.
Gasly was soon through on the Ferrari too as Leclerc slipped out of the points paying positions.
Approaching mid-distance, Verstappen had moved into a comfortable, if not commanding position at the head of the race.
Red Bull seemed to have Mercedes covered on outright pace, Bottas slipping four seconds back from the lead with Hamilton two seconds further back in third.
Helping Red Bull’s cause was Albon in fourth, 10 seconds adrift of his team-mate but playing a key role in closing off strategic options for the team’s world championship winning rivals.
Leclerc stopped for the first time on Lap 23, falling to last of the 19 remaining runners.
On opportunist move from Gasly saw the AlphaTauri driver pick Stroll’s pocket at Turn 11 on Lap 29.
It demoted the Racing Point driver to 10th and allowed Gasly to pursue Vettel, one of just two drivers (the other being Ricciardo) yet to stop.
Three laps later, Gasly scythed by Vettel with the aid of DRS into Turn 8, working hard to defend from the four-time world champion into Turn 11 despite enjoying tyres some 10 laps newer.
The Ferrari then quickly became something of a cork in the bottle before he stopped at the end of Lap 35 to swap his hard compound tyres for a set of mediums.
It saw him rejoin in 15th place and open a gap on track in which Ricciardo could drop into when he took service.
That stop came on Lap 40, The Australian falling to seventh behind the two McLaren drivers with a fresh set of medium tyres fitted to the Renault.
Though he closed in on Sainz in sixth, the deficit was too great and positions remained unchanged in an unspectacular climax to the 2020 season wound down.
Vibration concerns for Verstappen proved unfounded as he held a comfortable advantage over the two Mercedes, headed by Bottas, with Albon fourth to the flag.
The second Red Bull had closed in on Hamilton in the final laps, though was never close enough to consider a move.
Second for Bottas was enough to confirm himself in second in the drivers’ championship over Verstappen, handing Mercedes a one-two in that competition.
In constructors’ championship terms, 10th place for Stroll was not enough for Racing Point to cling on to third over McLaren, which netted strong points courtesy of Norris and Sainz in fifth and sixth.
Stroll dropped a spot to Ocon on the final lap, Racing Point slipping to fourth in the constructors’ battle.
Renault finished fifth for the season, while a pointless race for Ferrari cemented its worst championship performance in four decades.
It marked a similar result for Williams, which ended the year without a point to its name, Russell trailing home 15th and Latifi 17th.
Victory for Verstappen was his second of the year, and 10th of his career, having also been successful at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone earlier in the campaign.
Result: Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
|1||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||55||1:36:28.645|
|4||23||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing Honda||55||+19.987s|
|5||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||55||+60.729s|
|6||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||55||+65.662s|
|8||10||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri Honda||55||+89.718s|
|10||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||55||+102.738s|
|11||26||Daniil Kvyat||AlphaTauri Honda||54||+1 lap|
|12||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||54||+1 lap|
|13||16||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||54||+1 lap|
|14||5||Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||54||+1 lap|
|15||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||54||+1 lap|
|16||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||54||+1 lap|
|17||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||54||+1 lap|
|18||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||54||+1 lap|
|19||51||Pietro Fittipaldi||Haas Ferrari||53||+2 laps|
|NC||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||8||DNF|
|2||Red Bull Racing Honda||319|
|4||Racing Point Bwt Mercedes||195|
|8||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||8|