Written by SFCMelbourne member, Michele Terminello
Lewis Hamilton ended his title-winning season on a high by dominating the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which featured a massive crash for Nico Hulkenberg.
The Briton ran the longest stint in the field pitting under an early virtual safety car but remained comfortably clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with Max Verstappen rounding out the podium.
When the 56 lap Abu Dhabi Grand Prix began, pole-sitter Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas got a lightning quick getaway with the two Ferrari’s of Vettel and Raikkonen tucked right behind.
Daniel Ricciardo passed Sauber’s Charles Leclerc for fifth at turn eight while behind them Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg suffered a massive crash after a tangle with Romain Grosjean.
Hulkenberg attacked Grosjean into the turn nine left-hander at the end of the first long back straight but the latter stuck on the outside of the Renault as he was forced onto the ragged edge of the track.
Hulkenberg turned in on the apex of the right hander that followed and was hit by Grosjean’s front-left, which sent the RS18 into a roll with his Renault coming to a rest upside down against the outside barrier, briefly catching fire, and the unhurt German had to wait for the marshals to arrive and reposition the car before he could get out.
Leclerc managed to take the place back off Ricciardo before the safety car was deployed.
When the race resumed on lap five, Hamilton made a great leap away from the pack and pulled a 1.2 second gap on team-mate Bottas.
On lap five, Hamilton lead from Bottas followed by Vettel and Raikkonen with Leclerc completing the top five.
A lap later, disaster struck for Raikkonen in his final race for the Scuderia with the Finn stopping on the main straight due to an electrical failure, which brought out the virtual safety car.
Hamilton pitted from the lead under the virtual safety car for a fresh set of supersofts on lap eight following Raikkonen’s retirement.
Leclerc also came in for a set of supersofts under the VSC for a set of supersofts and emerged in 14th place.
The race resumed on lap nine with Bottas having a 1.1 second gap over Vettel with the two Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Verstappen in third and fourth respectively and Hamilton completing the top five.
Hamilton closed up to Verstappen and passed him for fourth at turn eight and nine chicane, but the Dutchman fought back and overtook him back on the next straight.
Verstappen pulled away from Hamilton and was 1.8 seconds clear from the Briton in fourth place.
At the front, Bottas increased his lead to Vettel by 1.9 seconds while behind them, Hamilton has fallen over three seconds off Verstappen with the Briton managing his supersoft tyres on his planned one-stop strategy.
On lap 15, Bottas further increased the gap over Vettel to 2.351 seconds with Ricciardo and Verstappen third and fourth respectively and Hamilton rounding out the top five.
Vettel pitted from second for his fresh set of supersofts and came out in fifth behind Force India’s Esteban Ocon.
Bottas reacted a lap later and pitted from the lead, with the Finn emerging behind Mercedes team-mate Hamilton in fourth and comfortably ahead of Vettel.
Verstappen followed suit on lap 18 and pitted from second while team-mate Ricciardo remained out in the lead.
After lap 20, the yet-to-pit Ricciardo held a 5.8 second gap from Hamilton while Bottas was a further 8.360 seconds in third with Vettel and Verstappen completing the top five.
“There is a threat of rain later on in the race,” Hamilton was told by Mercedes over the radio. “It won’t be inters so keep your tyres in good shape. It will hit the main straight.”
Ricciardo, Vettel and Verstappen were all running in the 1:43’s with both Mercedes lapping in the 1:44’s.
On lap 25, the predicted rain started to fall with Ricciardo maintaining a six second gap over Hamilton with Bottas third, Vettel fourth and Verstappen fifth.
A lap later Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson pulled off with a loss of power while at the front Hamilton gets the gap behind race leader Ricciardo under five seconds.
On lap 30, Ricciardo’s lead continued to slip with Hamilton bringing the gap down to three seconds while Bottas is a further 9.4 seconds behind his Mercedes team-mate in third with Vettel fourth and Verstappen rounding out the top five.
The top five were covered by 12.1 seconds but were all spread out with Bottas, Vettel and Verstappen all running close together.
Ricciardo relinquished the lead to Hamilton on lap 34 for a set of supersofts and came out in fifth place behind team-mate Verstappen.
On lap 35, Bottas suffered a lockup into the turn five and six chicane as Vettel pounced on the Finn’s error and closed in on the rundown to the turn eight and nine chicane before swooping past the Mercedes with DRS for second into the next chicane.
Bottas locked up once again and went off at turn eight with Verstappen close behind the Mercedes.
On lap 36, Hamilton held a 7.1 second lead over Vettel with Bottas third, Verstappen fourth and Ricciardo completing the top five.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the brakes, with the lock ups,” Bottas explained to his team about his offs.
With 17 laps remaining, Verstappen attacked Bottas into Turn 11 – with the Finn running wide at the corner, as both ran alongside each other and made light contact at the next apex, Verstappen made his way through into third.
A lap later, Bottas was a sitting duck once more falling into the clutches of Ricciardo’s Red Bull and the Australian closed in with DRS into turn eight and dived down the inside of the Mercedes to snatch fourth place.
Bottas fought back on the next straight but Ricciardo stood his ground as the Finn pitted for a set of ultrasofts a lap afterwards and emerged in fifth with a free pit-stop gap over the class B of the field.
“We pitted because we saw something that concerned us with the right rear after the contact,” Mercedes reported to Bottas.
With ten laps remaining, Hamilton was five seconds ahead of Vettel with Verstappen third, Ricciardo fourth and Bottas fifth.
Hamilton was once again the slowest of the leaders, but his rivals weren’t rapidly closing in on the Briton.
Esteban Ocon was the next casualty with his Mercedes-powered Force India suffering a loss of power in the pit-lane entry.
The front-runners were making there way through traffic with Vettel unable to make ground on Hamilton’s gap.
Hamilton crossed the line to take his 73rd career victory and finished 3.9 seconds ahead of Vettel with Verstappen completing the podium.
“I’m so happy right now,” explained Hamilton in the post-race interview with the Briton also praising Vettel. “I know next year he’s going to come back strong next year.”
Ricciardo came home fourth in his final race for Red Bull while Bottas finished a distant fifth for Mercedes.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz finished in sixth place and in-front of Sauber’s Leclerc who was seventh and Force India’s Sergio Perez who took eighth and the two Haas VF-18’s of Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top ten.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso finished his final Grand Prix in 11th place and ahead of Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley who was 12th and Williams’ Lance Stroll who was 13th.
Also, in his final Formula 1 race, Stoffel Vandoorne came home in 14th and the other FW41 Williams of Sergey Sirotkin completed the race runners.
Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly was the other retirement of the race due to an engine failure.
The Formula 1 2018 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Results Classification (56 laps)
|1||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport||55||1h39m40.382s|
|2||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari||55||2.581s|
|3||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing||55||12.706s|
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing||55||15.379s|
|5||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport||55||47.957s|
|6||Carlos Sainz||Renault Sport F1 Team||55||1m12.548s|
|7||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team||55||1m30.789s|
|8||Sergio Perez||Racing Point Force India F1 Team||55||1m31.275s|
|9||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team||54||1 Lap|
|10||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team||54||1 Lap|
|11||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Renault F1 Team||54||1 Lap|
|12||Brendon Hartley||Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda||54||1 Lap|
|13||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing||54||1 Lap|
|14||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Renault F1 Team||54||1 Lap|
|15||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing||54||1 Lap|
|–||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda||46||Retirement|
|–||Esteban Ocon||Racing Point Force India F1 Team||44||Retirement|
|–||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team||24||Retirement|
|–||Kimi Raikkonen||Scuderia Ferrari||6||Retirement|
|–||Nico Hulkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team||0||Collision|
2018 Formula 1 World Driver’s Championship Standings
2018 Formula 1 World Constructors Championship Standings