The season finale can only be downer compared to the excitement of the Brazilian GP. But it is what it is and the Formula 1 calendar concludes at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. While the circuit looks good on paper, it has failed to deliver any exciting races in recent memory. The layout does seem to borrow plenty of design cues from more interesting circuits but offers rare moments of close racing. However, it is a very pretty tourist destination for the lifestyle associated with the pinnacle of motor racing.
Abu Dhabi has been a stronghold of Mercedes since 2014 and the Silver Arrows locked out the front row every time. This year, it was Lewis Hamilton who took pole position ahead of Valtteri Bottas. It was the 2019 Champion’s first pole in qualifying since the summer break. Meanwhile, Bottas didn’t get to line up on the front row as he was using a whole bunch of new power unit elements and would instead start 20th on the grid.
It was another strong performance from Max Verstappen as he was third fastest and would start on the front row. Meanwhile, Ferrari had yet another moment of poor team chemistry as Charles Leclerc was not able to start his final lap of Q3 behind Sebastian Vettel. The former World Champ still didn’t best the youngster’s time and was only fifth fastest. Both drivers would start on the second row.
Red Bull rookie Alex Albon wasn’t far off with his sixth-fastest time either. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Lando Norris was able to outqualify teammate Carlos Sainz yet again as the pair were seventh and ninth fastest respectively. This brought the McLaren duo’s qualifying tally to 11-10, in favour of Norris. The two cars were split by Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo while Nico Hulkenberg qualified tenth fastest in his last race in F1 (as of now). Bottas’ penalty allowed Sergio Perez to start tenth on the grid.
When the cars rolled out to line up on the grid, Ferrari was already on the back foot as the stewards announced a post-race investigation for Charles Leclerc. Apparently, the team had given an inaccurate fuel declaration for the No.16 car ahead of the race. The penalty for this would likely be a monetary fine for the team rather than something to alter the young man’s race classification. Nonetheless, it’s not a comforting start to a race.
Both Lewis and Max got off the line better than the Ferraris as Lando put the pressure on Alex behind them. Charles was able to use the Ferrari’s straight-line pace to get past Verstappen down the main straight into Turn 8. Meanwhile, Bottas had already made it up into 16th as he made his way around Turn 9. Norris and Sainz swapped places twice on the opening lap while Pierre Gasly got taken out by the Racing Point cars, Perez ahead and Lance Stroll from behind. The Toro Rosso sustained front wing damage and it took a lot of time to fit on a new one.
An unusual announcement from the opening laps was that the DRS system would remain disabled due to a technical problem with the timing sensors. My first reaction was that the racing would be worse but as the laps went on, I was corrected. The racing action was better as drivers had to use skill and courage to overtake the car they were close to. Something to consider in the future of F1 – maybe no DRS is an easier solution to better racing than messing around with the aerodynamics. Or perhaps rethinking the use of DRS in races.
By Lap 5, Lewis was over three seconds ahead of Charles who was being chased by Max while Sebastian was holding off Alexander. Bottas had made it up to P13 and was carving his way through the mid-field. The first round of overtakes would be down to the tyre strategy and Vettel was the only one of the top 5 on soft tyres.
Ferrari decided to opt for a two-stop for both drivers and called them in for a stacked pit stop after just 12 laps. Leclerc was out of the box in under 3 seconds to switch from the mediums to fresh hard tyres. But Vettel’s stop took nearly 7 seconds as the pit crew struggled to get the left side tyres on properly. This further hampered Seb’s chances at a podium finish in this race. Red Bull pitted Albon the next lap but Verstappen stayed out on track to match Mercedes’ strategy for Hamilton. The Mercedes man was pulling away like a rocket, more than 10 seconds ahead of Verstappen.
DRS had been switched back on around Lap 20 and the racing action in the mid-field had returned to its usual dullness since then. It did help Bottas though as he was up into P4 by that time, the Finn also on medium tyres. Meanwhile, at the front, it was Max who pitted first at the start of Lap 26 which allowed Leclerc to move back into P2 but Lewis was a full pit stop ahead of both of them. Mercedes pitted the Brit on the very next lap and despite a relatively slow pit stop, Hamilton rejoined the race still in P1 with a 6-second lead. The fresh set of hard tyres would easily see him through till the chequered flag while Leclerc would have to pit again. Bottas pitted at the start of Lap 30, the longest stint on the medium tyre that night.
As Charles’ hard compound tyres started to wear out, Lewis was more than 12 seconds ahead by Lap 30. Verstappen had also caught up on his fresher tyres and wasn’t going to wait for Ferrari to pit to get ahead. It was a short-lived duel and on Lap 32, the Dutchman was right behind the Monegasque down the main straight. Since they were lapping a Williams, both had DRS but Max had an increased effect of low downforce and was able to dive down the inside of the Ferrari that in ht middle of the track. He was able to outbreak him into Turn 8 and get ahead but Charles had DRS advantage into the next straight. Verstappen held onto the inside line into Turn 11 as Leclerc tried to go around the outside but was forced wide into the next corner and had to back off. The Red Bull zoomed off to try and catch the Mercedes while Ferrari waited till the end of Lap 38 to pit Charles and put him on a set of soft tyres for the final stint and stayed in P3.
Vettel was pitted on the same lap but he was a long way back and rejoined the race in P6. Bottas got past Albon into P4 on the next lap, this time with no incident between the W10 and the RB15. The Finn had the advantage of the faster car, DRS and fresher tyres. From here, it was a bit of a procession for the top six until the finish line. The final bit of action was Vettel getting past Albon on the penultimate lap, using the fresher medium tyres to his advantage along with DRS on the back straight to fly past the Red Bull.
Hamilton crossed the finish line more than 16 seconds ahead of Verstappen. The 2019 World Champion closed off the season in dominant fashion – 11th season win, 50th pole-to-victory performance, 19th race led from start to finish which ties with the record set by Artyon Senna. He even took the extra point for the fastest lap of the race.
Verstappen finished P2, a back-to-back podium result at Abu Dhabi for the young Dutchman while Leclerc finished a distant P3. The Ferrari driver was allowed to keep his podium result and the stewards handed a €50,000 fine for the infringement.
Bottas’ drove incredibly well but was denied a podium. However, had there been a few more laps left in the race, the Finn would have gotten past the Ferrari. Still, a good drive from the back of the grid with some exciting overtakes:
Most of the racing action in the middle order revolved around the McLarens, Renaults and Sergio Perez. The Mexican driver made a few impressive overtakes to finish P7. After a stunning 37 lap stint on the medium tyres, he switched to the hard compound and on Lap 46 he made a Ricciardo-like late-braking dive down the inside of Hulkenberg to get past the Renault. He was just under three seconds behind Norris who had put on his set of hard compound tyres on Lap 9. The rookie got the call to get his elbows out and fight to the finish and Lando did make a valiant effort. On the last lap, Perez used his extra grip to go around the outside of Turn 11 just as he and Norris were catching up with a lapped Williams. That gave Sergio the better line through into turns 12 and 13. The Mexican himself proclaimed it to be one of the best moves of his career over the team radio. Norris finished P8 in the end.
For Sainz, finishing in the points held a lot of importance as it would allow him to move up to 6th in the overall driver’s championship. The Spaniard was below Pierre Gasly on equal points but with the Frenchman out of points contention, this would be Carlos’ only chance to get ahead. McLaren had pitted him early too, putting him on the hard tyres since Lap 13. He spent most of his Abu Dhabi GP battling Ricciardo who was on a similar tyre strategy. On Lap 20, Hulkenberg was on a fresh set of medium tyres and got past Sainz using DRS. Daniil Kvyat had also caught up for the points and was the one who set off the second stops for Carlos and Daniel. On Lap 41, the Russian made his first pit stop of the race to switch from the hard to the medium tyres. On Lap 42, Sainz pitted to do the same while Ricciardo pitted the next lap to put on a set of used soft tyres. Renault left Hulkenberg out on track on the medium tyres to try and make it to the end of the race and maybe hold off Sainz towards the end. Kvyat was able to get past Hulkenberg on Lap 47 who was clearly struggling for grip on those 27 lap old tyres. Towards the final few laps, Carlos was fighting off Daniel while trying to get past Nico for the final championship point. On Lap 55, the Spaniard dove down the inside of the German into Turn 11, locked up his front left but didn’t lose grip. On the exit, Nico was right on the McLaren’s tail but his tail end got loose and took him off the racing line which allowed Daniel to get past as well. Sainz made it to the finish line in P10 and claim that one point that placed him a point ahead of Gasly and 6th in the championship. Here’s a quick video recap of most of these overtakes:
Ricciardo and Hulkenberg finished P11 and P12 respectively, a disappointing result for the German’s last race but definitely better than last year when he was hanging upside down in his overturned Renault in the first lap.
Kimi Raikkonen’s season with Alfa Romeo also came to a disappointing end with a P13 finish after starting 17th on the grid. His teammate Antonio Giovinazzi who started and finished the race in P16. The Haas drivers also finished where they started – Kevin Magnussen in P14 and Romain Grosjean in P15. George Russell finished P17, just ahead of Gasly while his teammate Robert Kubica finished P19 and last. Kubica’s return to the sport was a big moment, it’s just a shame that he spent all season at the back of the grid before finally closing his chapter in Formula 1. At least he scored one point in the season. Lance Stroll was the only DNF of the race, his RP19 being near undrivable from the opening lap incident where it suffered front end damage.
That concludes the 2019 season of Formula 1. We’ll be going through next year’s changes to the driver lineup and the calendar in another article. Before that, let’s do a quick summary of the final driver and constructor championship standings.
Mercedes finished the season with 739 points, 235 points clear of Ferrari in second while Red Bull’s tally came to 417 points. That’s 272 points clear of the fourth-best team this season. One could say that the grid was split into three performance classes for the first half of the season where Mercedes earned most of its points.
Thanks to the outcome of the Brazilian GP, Max Verstappen finished third in the standings just 14 points ahead of Charles Leclerc. Vettel was fifth with just 240 points which is 144 points clear of sixth place Sainz. With half a season each for Red Bull and Toro Rosso, Gasly finished seventh with 95 points and Albon was eighth in the standings with 92. Gasly’s tally was helped by his P2 result in Brazil.
McLaren had already secured fourth in the Constructor’s Championship after the remarkable podium in Brazil and finished 54 points clear of the Renault factory team. What a fantastic season for McLaren after all the difficult years since the British name returned to F1. A great season for both drivers with Sainz getting his first F1 podium and Norris having an incredible rookie season. Norris finished eleventh in the driver’s standings with a tally of 49 points, just 6 points ahead of Raikkonen.
Scuderia Toro Rosso finished 6th in the 2019 Constructor’s Championship, 6 points behind Renault and 12 points ahead of Sport Pesa Racing Point BWT team. Alfa Romeo was able to secure 57 points from its strong performances in the first half of the season ahead, while Haas finished 9th with just 28 points. Williams finished the season with an embarrassing tally of just 1 point.
While the 2020 season won’t sport many changes, the 2021 changes ought to reduce the disparity between the team results and make F1 more exciting than what it is today.
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- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:34:05.715
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +16.772
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +43.435
- V. Bottas Mercedes +44.379
- S. Vettel Ferrari +64.357
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +69.205
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +1 Lap
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- D. Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- D. Ricciardo Renault +1 Lap
- N. Hulkenberg Renault +1 Lap
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 Lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 Lap
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +2 Laps
- R. Kubica Williams Racing Mercedes +2 Laps
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes DNF