This was it. The last race of the 2018 Season of Formula 1. Lewis Hamilton had won the driver’s championship, Mercedes won the constructor’s championship, there was not much left to be won. Everyone raced for a good way to end the year, for pride, for the love of racing. After all, things just won’t be the same again.
The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi has been dominated by Mercedes since 2014 and this time around as well. Qualifying results were quite predictable with the Silver Arrows locked out the front row for the fifth year running with Hamilton on pole ahead of Valtteri Bottas. It was the second-row for Ferrari with Sebastian Vettel third fastest ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Daniel Ricciardo was fifth fastest, outqualifying Max Verstappen as the Red Bulls filled up the third row on the starting grid. Romain Grosjean was able to qualify seventh fastest ahead of Charles Leclerc while Esteban Ocon outdid his Racing Point teammate to start ninth on the grid and Nico Hulkenberg started 10th on the grid.
The front five had a good start but Max got left behind and was in the mix of the middle order chaos, dropping down to P10 behind Ocon. Meanwhile, Grosjean went wide in the first couple of corners and lost position as Leclerc in the Sauber put pressure on Daniel. As the cars headed into the chicane, Grosjean was down the inside of Hulkenberg for the exit and the German tried to shut the door on the Frenchman. But the cars made contact and as the wheels came together at an odd angle, the Renault was flipped into the air and came to a stop in the stands after two whole rolls, upside down with Hulkenberg “hanging like a cow”. A swift, dramatic and disappointing end to the race and the 2018 season for the Renault driver.
Once they had Nico safely out and the car moved, the racing action resumed a few laps later and Verstappen wasted no time in making his way back up the order. However, Lap 7 gave many fans a heart-wrenching moment as Kimi in his last race for Ferrari rolled to a stop in front of the grandstand. The car had packed up. Not the way any of his fans or even fans of F1 would want to see him leave the iconic Ferrari racing team but it wouldn’t bother the Finn anymore than any other race retirement. The VSC that ensued saw Hamilton make an early stop to switch to tyres meant to take him to the end of the race while the rest of the front runners like Vettel, Bottas and Verstappen pitted much later.
Lewis tried to utilise the fresh tyres make his way past Max but the Red Bull driver was having none of that. Everyone but Daniel had pitted which put Lewis in P2 with Bottas behind him as a cushion ahead of Vettel and Verstappen, an order that remained unchanged for many laps. Halfway through the race, there was an intense three-way battle between Stoffel Vandoorne, Grosjean and Ocon with the McLaren driver showing off his racing skills. Stoffel and Esteban were racing wheel to wheel for about three or four corners until the Frenchie went wide on an exit and rejoined the track ahead of the McLaren. Ocon was handed a 5-second penalty for that.
Lap 34 saw Daniel Ricciardo finally come into the pits after a strong stint in the lead at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and he rejoined the race in P5, behind Max. In the next 5 laps, Bottas who was running in P2, drop to P5. The Finn had all but used up the grip in his tyres and saw himself losing out to Vettel, then to Verstappen after a bit of a wheel-to-wheel collision and then to Ricciardo who pulled off yet another one of his signature late breaking manoeuvres heading into the chicane on Lap 39. There were more retirements on Lap 47 and 48 as both Ocon and Pierre Gasly suffered engine issues and had to end their race there. Both drivers were competing in their last race for their respective teams, Ocon without a seat in 2019 and Gasly moving up from Toro Rosso Honda to the main Red Bull Honda team.
In the end, Hamilton took the win with Vettel finishing P2 and Verstappen crossing the chequered flag in P3 taking his fifth consecutive podium finish and his 11th of the season. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo ended his final race for Red Bull Racing in P4 ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Before we get to the final results, I have to mention the beauty of what was the parade lap for Fernando Alonso as he retired from Formula 1 for the foreseeable future. The best moment, however, was this:
How amazing of a sendoff is that? Well, he is Alonso. Nothing less would have felt right. Also, he was rocking a special livery on his McLaren MCL33 that pays tribute to all the teams he raced with during his F1 career. He started 15th on the grid and drove to a P11 finish and out-qualified his teammate Vandoorne in every race of 2018.
The best of the rest finish was claimed by Carlos Sainz with an impressive P6 result in his last race for Renault after starting 11th on the grid. He was able to finish ahead of Charles Leclerc who crossed the line in P7 in his last race for Sauber as he will be moving to Ferrari for 2019. Perez was also able to secure some points with his P8 finish despite starting 14th on the grid. The Haas team took the last two points-scoring positions as Grosjean finished P9 and Kevin Magnussen finished P10 despite qualifying 13th fastest.
Toro Rosso had a tough race with Gasly starting 17th before retiring and Brendon Hartley ended the race in P12 after qualifying 16th fastest in his last F1 race. Another driver who will not be seen on the 2019 F1 grid, Stoffel Vandoorne had started 18th and despite his moment of excellence, could only manage a P14 finish. The racer from Belgium will be racing in Formula E next for HWA Racelabs with the first race in December, so there will be more of him on this blog. Marcus Ericsson had done well for Sauber with his 12th fastest qualifying time but suffered an engine problem and had to retire in the first half of the race. He is another talented young racer who will be leaving F1 and will be racing in the IndyCar series in 2019.
Lastly, we have the Williams Drivers who started on the last row with Lance Stroll finishing in P13 and Sergey Sirotkin in P15. In 2019 Stroll will be racing for Racing Point, owned by his father, replacing the much more talented Ocon while Sirotkin will also not be returning to F1 in 2019 despite showing strong racing potential.
That was it. The last F1 race for 2018. Next year will feature new talents, upcoming racers in top teams and new aerodynamics for the cars. We will not see Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull colours anymore but in Renault yellow instead. Kimi Raikkonen will switch to white overalls as he heads to the team where his F1 career began – Sauber. There will not be any radio messages to look forward to from Fernando Alonso. Yes, things will never be the same, but they will definitely be exciting and I’ll be watching. Stay tuned and subscribe to the blog for various F1 news and updates as we wait for the action to start all over again in March 2019.
Final Race Standings:
- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:39:40.382
- S. Vettel Ferrari +2.581
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing +12.706
- D. Ricciardo Aston Martin Red Bull Racing +15.379
- V. Bottas Mercedes +47.957
- C. Sainz Renault +72.458
- C. Leclerc Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +90.789
- S. Perez Force India Mercedes +91.275
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- F. Alsono McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- B. Hartley Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
- L. Stroll Williams Racing Mercedes +2 Laps
- S. Vandoorne McLaren Renault +1 Laps
- S. Sirotkin Williams Racing Mercedes +2 Laps
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
- E. Ocon Force India Mercedes +1 Lap
- M. Ericsson Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari DNF
- K. Raikkonen Ferrari DNF
- N. Hulkenberg Renault DNF