Verstappen wins in Abu Dhabi

13/12/2020
NEWS STORY

The last race of the season always has a certain 'end-of-term- feel about it, but this year more than ever.

Perhaps it's the whole COVID thing, all of us glad to see the back of 2020 and for once actually joyfully anticipating singing that awful Robert Burns ditty in a couple of weeks.

While we are now almost in mid-December and almost at the time when the birth of the special infant is celebrated (it's Tuesday 15th in case you were wondering - Ed), this isn't the latest end to an F1 season, for in 1963 the last race was December 28 and the previous year the 29th marked the last event.

This year we say farewell to a number of drivers and even a number of teams, while there are also some driver movements.

While the fate of Alex Albon and Sergio Perez is yet to be decided, we look to be saying adieu to Daniil Kvyat, Kevin Magnussen and Pietro Fittipaldi, while Renault becomes Alpine and Racing Point morphs yet again, this time into Aston Martin.

Daniel Ricciardo leaves Renault for McLaren, Carlos Sainz swaps McLaren for Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel vacates the Ferrari for an Aston Martin, and we prepare to welcome Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda, Nikita Mazepin and up and coming youngster, Fernando Alonso.

Of course, the second seat at AlphaTauri has yet to be confirmed, likewise that at Red Bull.

Perez' credentials are already well established, and therefore it is up to Albon to deliver today and thereby save his seat. Christian Horner and Helmut Marko have shown uncharacteristic patience thus far, and while there is no doubting the youngster's ability he really must move up a gear (or two) and give Verstappen more support.

Riding shotgun for the Dutchman today would be the perfect opportunity for the cat-loving Thai to prove that he wants the seat and will fight for it. If not, a proven race-winner is waiting in the wings.

Following that superb pole-winning lap, Max has the opportunity this evening to convert it into his second win of the season. Starting in clear air, he only has to hold off the Mercedes pair into - and out of - the first corner to stand a good chance of denying them.

In all honesty, Bottas appears Mercedes best bet today, for while the Finn is clearly fired-up following last week's shot across the bow from Russell, Hamilton does not appear to be firing on all cylinders. There is talk that the Briton returned too early after catching the virus, but in all honesty it wasn't only across Bottas' bow that Mr Russell fired that warning shot.

As ever, the midfield will be frantic, and having looked so strong at the start of the weekend, Renault failed when it most mattered. That said, both drivers have free choice in terms of tyres this evening, which must be considered a bonus.

While Racing Point appears to have third almost in the bag, one must never write-off McLaren, and judging by yesterday's qualifying performance - not to mention the overnight news regarding a sizeable investment - the Woking outfit is up for the fight.

Racing Point's cause is not helped by Perez having to start from the back of the grid, but that didn't hinder the Mexican too much last weekend. Indeed, today offers Checo one final opportunity to impress Messrs Marko and Horner.

AlhpaTauri should add some more points to its tally, though it is unlikely to overhaul Ferrari.

Talking of the Maranello outfit, while Leclerc will be keen to make up for last weekend's silliness, teammate Vettel will be glad to get the race over and done and put 2020 and Ferrari behind him.

What might lie in store is probably best summed up by Russell: "It gets to the last race of the season and everybody up and down the grid gets a bit desperate," he says. "I think there's a few teams fighting for that P3 spot so we might see some big lunges... Carlos is obviously off to Ferrari so he probably won't care if he bashes up the car. Danny Ric is obviously off so he doesn't care if he bashes up the car. Sergio's off, so he won't care if he bashes up the car. So it could be a good one!"

The optimal race strategy is a (groan) one-stopper, starting on the mediums for 18 laps and moving onto hards for 37 laps (or vice-versa). It's also possible to do a one-stopper starting on the softs for 14 laps and then going onto the hards for 41 laps, but this is slightly slower in terms of overall race time.

A two-stopper is slower, especially because track position is crucial, with the track being hard to overtake on and a complicated pit lane exit that adds to the time loss. The way to do it would be two soft stints of 12 laps each (one at the start and the other one as last), plus one 31-lap hard stint.

Of the leading ten, Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Sainz and Leclerc start on the mediums, the others on softs.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin heading out, some taking their place on the grid unusually early.

Christian Horner makes it clear that Albon's job today is to cover the Mercedes pair.

Following the national anthem, Lewis Hamilton presents F1 CEO, Chase Carey, who is handing over to Stefano Domenicali, a crash helmet signed by all the drivers.

Air temperature is 24 degrees C, while the track temperature is 31 degrees.

Russell reports his pedal feels really long. Told that it's fine, he replies: "I'll take your word for it."

Outside the leading ten, all start on mediums bar Ricciardo, Vettel, Perez and Magnussen who all start on hards.

Ricciardo is told to really work his hard tyres over the course of his warm-up lap.

"55 laps, everything we've got," Ricciardo tells his team as he prepares to sign off.

All get away cleanly for the warm-up lap.

The grid forms.

They're away. Good starts from Verstappen, Bottas and Norris. Into Turn 1, Sainz attempts to get through on the inside of Albon while up ahead the rear of Bottas' Mercedes wobbles as he heads out of the corner. A poor getaway sees Ocon lose out to Stroll who is now side-by-side with Gasly.

Following a poor start, Leclerc is under early pressure from Raikkonen having already lost out to Vettel, while at the back there's a massive lock-up for Fittipaldi.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Norris, Albon, Sainz, Kvyat, Stroll, Ocon and Gasly. Perez has dropped to last, while Magnussen has made up four places.

Gasly makes a bold move on Ocon to take ninth. The Renault driver appears to fight back but the AlphaTauri has it covered.

Bottas is told to look after his fronts for a couple of laps.

In quick succession, Perez nails Latifi and Fittipaldi to take 18th. His next target is Magnussen.

"The car is all over the place," complains Latifi.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Island, here.

Albon has a little look at Norris, as the Briton drops 4s behind the leaders. The Red Bull driver is told to look after his tyres.

"Do you have pace in hand," Ocon is asked, Renault clearly wondering whether it might be best to let Ricciardo pass the Frenchman. The anomaly being that Ocon is on the quicker tyre.

Albon makes a nice move on Norris in Turn 9 to take fourth, and sets about making up the 5s deficit to Hamilton.

Ocon slows and allows his teammate through.

Bottas is told to start closing the gap to Verstappen, while Sainz warns of front-left graining.

On a day Leclerc is sporting a tribute helmet in honour of his departing teammate, Vettel refuses to let the youngster by.

With Ricciardo hanging on to his tail, Gasly makes a move on his AlphaTauri teammate, nailing the Russian in a great move to take 8th.

Out come the yellows as Perez pulls to the side of the track. As the Mexican thumps his steering wheel, the VSC is deployed.

As he climbs from the car, Perez is clearly frustrated and angry.

It appears to be oil pressure related.

Under the VSC, Verstappen and Bottas pit, as does Hamilton. Albon also, and Norris, Sainz, Stroll et al. However, the Ferrari pair stay out, even though their crew was ready and waiting.

Ricciardo doesn't pit, nor Giovinazzi, Magnussen or Latifi as the full Safety Car is deployed. Seemingly there is oil on the track.

Replay shows Stroll being released into the path of Sainz.

All those that pitted have switched to the hards clearly intending to continues all the way to the flag.

Of course, Perez' retirement has compromised Racing Point's constructors' standings hopes.

Not for the first time, Hamilton admits uncertainty over his team's strategy.

Ahead of the withdrawal of the Safety Car - at the end of lap 13 - Hamilton is unhappy with the handling of his car, he asks if there is floor damage.

Meanwhile, Perez arrives back in the paddock... what a difference a week makes. In F1.

Verstappen has it under control at the restart, as Sainz makes quick work of Leclerc to take 8th.

The Ferrari driver attempts to retake the position, but Sainz has the edge over his 2021 teammate.

Giovinazzi makes a cheeky move on Ocon for 12th but the Frenchman slams the door firmly shut.

Now Leclerc loses out to Stroll, however this time the Ferrari driver does retake the position, albeit courtesy of DRS.

Sainz is under investigation for driving unnecessarily slowly in the pitlane. That could mean a 5s penalty.

"You're doing a great job," Vettel is told, despite having been passed by Sainz. While the German denied the Spaniard when he made his first move in Turn 8, the McLaren driver subsequently made a move stick.

"No saving, maximum push," Giovinazzi is told. "No saving."

For the second time, amidst his other issues, Leclerc has his time deleted for the second time this evening.

Leclerc makes short work on the Monegasque in Turn 8 to take 9th.

"If we can get through Ricciardo it makes our race easier," Norris is advised.

Meanwhile, Leclerc is passed by Gasly as the Ferrari driver's struggles continue.

Like his teammate he has yet to pit, however Vettel is on the more durable hards and Leclerc on the mediums.

After 20 laps, Verstappen leads by 4.1s, as Ocon and Kvyat are all over the back of Leclerc.

From out of nowhere, 1.7s down on his teammate, Hamilton goes quickest in S1.

"We are going to lose a lot more (places) if we stay out five laps," warns Leclerc.

At which point he is passed by Ocon.

Leclerc finally pits at the end of lap 22, rejoining in last (19th) on hards.

"Is Valtteri struggling?" asks Hamilton. "No major complaints," the world champion is advised.

Struggling or not, Bottas is losing ground to Verstappen, the Finn now 4.779s down on the Red Bull.

Verstappen unsure if his tyres will last the thirty laps to the end.

Stroll runs wide in his attempts to haul in Vettel, thereby handing the German some breathing space.

"I don't think these tyres are going all the way to the end," reports Hamilton.

Giovinazzi finally pits at the end of lap 27.

Leclerc is advised that some of the drivers in front are concerned about their tyres.

Sainz' speed in the pitlane will be investigated after the race. This follows a complaint from Racing Point who feel that the Spaniard cost Stroll time and a position.

Meanwhile, Gasly and Stroll touch as the Frenchman makes his move on the Canadian to take 9th.

"You've been doing great lap Kevin, keep the pressure on him," Magnussen is told.

"What it's all going to come down to now is who can look after the hard tyres best all the way to the finish," says Pirelli. So far Red Bull and Verstappen are looking comfortable."

Gasly passes Vettel for 8th, and though the German attempts to retake the position he simply doesn't have the pace.

Leclerc exceeds the track limits for the third... make that fourth, time.

Now Stroll lines up Vettel.

Told Stroll is 0.8s behind, Vettel replies: "I'll get eaten up." Along with Ricciardo, after 33 laps, the German is the only driver yet to pit.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Island, here.

Vettel now has Stroll, Ocon and Kvyat running in his wake. Further back, Leclerc passes Russell for 14th.

"I'm slowing down now, the tyres are gone," says Vettel. "Stay out, stay out," he is told, his team wanting to bring Leclerc back into play.

Vettel finally pits at the end of lap 35, the German switching to the mediums. He rejoins in 15th having lost time when the team encountered a problem with his front-left. Latifi also pits.

After 40 laps of what is a highly processional race, it's: Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Albon, Ricciardo, Norris, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll and Ocon.

7.7s down on the leader, Bottas goes quickest in the first sector. Meanwhile, Ricciardo pits. Switching to mediums, the Australian rejoins in 7th, having only lost two positions.

Verstappen is told his tyre temperatures are on the low side so to be careful under braking.

Could be tyre issues for Hamilton also has the Briton has times deleted for two successive laps.

Leclerc makes a move on Raikkonen, but the Veteran Finn is having none of it.

"Start getting closer, everything you've got," Bottas is told. The Finn is currently 8.6s down on Verstappen, but 3.6s clear of Hamilton.

There's a little concern creeping into Verstappen's radio messages, other than asking about the Mercedes pair's tyres his is worried about oscillations and vibrations on his own car.

Again, what a difference a week makes, as Russell is lapped by Verstappen.

While Bottas has dropped 11s behind the leader, Hamilton is now just 2s down on his Mercedes teammate. Albon is a further 6.6s behind.

Leclerc is shown the black and white flag for his continued flouting of the track limits rule.

"Good job Kevin, crazy understeer we know, but good job."

"You can turn the engine down now if you want to," says Verstappen.

A late stop for fresh mediums for Magnussen, who appears to be targeting the fastest lap.

Asked by Ricciardo if any of the "hard guys" ahead are struggling, his crew tell him, to his obvious dismay, that nobody appears to have any issues.

After 52 laps, Hamilton has dropped 3.7s behind Bottas, with Albon 4.2s behind. Further back, Ocon is hard on the heels of Stroll, while Giovinazzi is hustling Russell.

Ricciardo goes quickest in the final sector, but it is not enough to secure the fastest lap, which currently rests with Verstappen.

Albon closes to within 2s of Hamilton, as Bottas now goes quickest in S1.

When he asks where Hamilton is slow, Albon is told "everywhere".

Verstappen begins his final lap, the final lap of the season.

Ocon continues to harry Stroll in the battle for ninth.

Verstappen takes the flag, with Bottas crossing the line 15s later. Hamilton is third, just 1.5s ahead of Albon. Norris is fifth, ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo and Gasly.

A late move sees Ocon pass Stroll, thereby demoting the Canadian to tenth.

Kvyat is eleventh, ahead of Raikkonen, Leclerc, Vettel, Russell, Giovinazzi, Latifi, Magnussen and Fittipaldi. Perez being the only retirement.

On the last lap Ricciardo posts a 40.926 to take that extra point.

"A great race," says Verstappen, though few of those watching would agree.

That said, it was a very, very convincing performance from Max, on a weekend he has looked strong from start to finish.

While there is talk that Mercedes had turned down its power units amid reliability concerns, it would be wrong to take anything away from the Dutchman or his team.

A strong performance from Albon also, who according to Christian Horner did just what was needed.

If truth be told, Mercedes hasn't looked 'on it' all weekend, and Hamilton, in particular, appeared to be having one of his rare off weekends.

While Sainz is under investigation for his pitlane antics, this won't affect McLaren's securing of third in the team standings. With Norris fifth and the Spaniard sixth, this was the perfect end to a day which began with the announcement of much needed investment.

Despite that poor qualifying performance, Renault got both of its drivers into the points, while Ferrari enjoyed yet another torrid afternoon.

We've said it before and we'll say it again, despite the bling - and the hosting fee - the Yas Marina is not the right choice for a season finale, fans want the final race - the memories of which carry them through the winter - to take place on a proper racing circuit... but since when did the fans' view really count?

That said, following a season the sport did well to put together and carry off, it would be wrong to end on a low note in terms of how we feel about Yas Marina.

Over the last six months we've seen some great races, some great performances. We seen joy, we've seen heartbreak.

Along with those never to be forgotten wins for Gasly and Perez, we've seen the horror of Grosjean in Bahrain.

All in all, especially under the circumstances, it's been a great season, certainly a hell of a lot better than we were expecting in the weeks that followed Melbourne.

Though Mercedes and Hamilton have continued to be the benchmark, it seems fitting that Verstappen and Red Bull send us into the winter with a smile on our faces.

Thanks Lewis, Valtteri, Charles, Sebastian, Max, Alex, Carlos, Lando, Daniel , Esteban, Daniil, Pierre, Sergio, Lance, Kimi, Antonio, Romain, Kevin, George, Nicholas, Jack and Pietro.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Island, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 13/12/2020
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