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Verstappen Dominates At Abu Dhabi To End The Season On A High: F1 2020

It’s nearly mid-December and the 2020 Formula 1 season has just drawn to a close. In a year full of uncertainties and bigger challenges than ever before, the fact that we even had an F1 season is something to be thankful for as fans of the sport. In half the time, we got a 17-race calendar and some iconic tracks that gave us plenty of memorable moments. But it all comes down to this last race at the usual stage – Abu Dhabi. A very dull albeit pretty circuit with its fancy lights and cool architecture. The titles are decided but everyone else still has something to race for: pride, a constructor’s championship result, a final performance. We’re going to do a full round-up of our favourite moments from the year in another story, but for now, let’s talk about the concluding GP.

Mercedes has dominated the turbo-hybrid era and has won every race at the Yas Marina circuit since 2014. The track has some interesting sections but simply doesn’t offer any exciting overtaking as nearly all passes happen in the DRS zones. So if you start ahead or simply have the quicker car that weekend, you’re likely to stay ahead. We expected another boring and dominant performance from the two Mercedes this weekend with Lewis Hamilton back on the grid after making a full recovery. Instead, we witnessed Red Bull ace driver Max Verstappen do to Mercedes what they’ve done to others for most of the season. Yes, there were reports that Mercedes had turned down the performance on the engines somewhat after the reliability issues faced by customer team Racing Point. But that still does not take away from Verstappen’s stellar performance all weekend.

The Dutchman snatched pole from Valterri Bottas by twenty-five milliseconds while Hamilton was also less than a tenth behind. The first pole position for Max and the first non-Mercedes pole this season. It was another career-best qualifying result for McLaren’s Lando Norris with the fourth-fastest time that put him ahead of Alex Albon and his teammate Carlos Sainz. AlphaTauri got both cars in Q3 as well with Daniil Kvyat being 7th fastest, ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly who was 10th fastest. The two between them were Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc, in that order. However, the Ferrari driver had a 3-place grid penalty for his Sakhir incident which meant he’d start the race from 12th on the grid, just ahead of departing teammate Sebastian Vettel.

On race day, Max was able to get a good start and stayed ahead of both Mercedes around Turn 1. Bottas got a bit squirrely on the exit which put backed him into the pack a little bit. Lewis may have recovered enough to race but he clearly wasn’t at a 100 per cent and wasn’t being his aggressive self. For the first time in a few weekends, we saw an incident-free first lap but it also had no significant overtakes. The front runners were quick to settle into the podium spots with Verstappen comfortably ahead but the middle order was quite exciting at times. The first battle of the race we saw was between the two Frenchmen – Gasly and Ocon for P9. Albon was fairly quick this weekend but it still took him a few laps before getting past Norris and up into P4.

The only DNF of the race came in the form of Sergio Perez on Lap 10. It was a heartbreaking sight as the Mexican driver with no place on the grid for 2021 juddered to a halt in his final race for Racing Point. The replay showed that his car had suffered an oil pressure problem that immediately killed the engine and ended his race. He’d started last on the grid after his penalty for additional power unit elements and we were rooting for him to get some points to help Racing Point secure third in the Constructor’s Championship. Alas, his poor luck struck again. At first, they only activated the VSC (Virtual Safety Car) to recover the pink RP20 before deploying the full Safety Car. This triggered early stops for all points contenders who hadn’t started on the Hard tyres. However, the double-stack pitstops went a lot smoother than last weekend, especially at Mercedes. 

Daniel Ricciardo and the two Ferrari drivers had stayed out which made sense for the Aussie and Vettel since they were on Hard tyres. But Leclerc, who was on Mediums, was also told to stay out. It did allow the trio to make up some positions which benefitted the Renault more than the Ferraris. Everyone in the top 10 apart from Charles was on the Hard types now. The order was unchanged for the top four by the time racing resumed while Daniel was in P5 and the McLarens of Lando and Carlos in P6 and P9 with Lance in P10. 

Verstappen nailed the restart too on Lap 14 and was over a second ahead of Bottas by the main straight. Sainz was on a mission to reclaim positions to secure McLaren’s constructor’s result. He slipstreamed past Leclerc with ease and used DRS to get past Vettel. On Lap 30, we saw Gasly make a late lunge past Stroll down into Turn 8 for P9 as the two were chasing down Vettel in P8. Leclerc pitted on Lap 23 and rejoined in last place and with no chance for points. Daniel Ricciardo managed to stretch his first stint on the Hard tyres till Lap 40, running in P5 since the SC period. While he wasn’t going to be able to stretch a lead to cover the McLarens behind him, he was able to rejoin the track in P7, just ahead of Gasly. However, those who switched to the Medium tyres for the second stint weren’t able to extract the pace they’d hoped hence why Daniel couldn’t catch those ahead of him and Vettel got stuck behind Leclerc in P14.

That was pretty much the only action in the 55 laps to end the season. While the race was as boring as usual, it was pleasing to see the Red Bull of Max Verstappen cross the finish line, comfortable ahead of the two Mercedes. Bottas secured a safe P2 as the weakened Hamilton seemed uninterested in challenging his teammate but kept him within 3 to 4 seconds. The 2020 champion just about kept his P3 podium as Alex Albon seemed to be catching up quickly in the closing laps. For the first time in 2020, a Mercedes had not led a single racing lap and instead we saw a masterclass from Verstappen who led the race from start to finish. The Dutchman had missed out on previous opportunities this season to capitalise on Mercedes’s misfortune at the Bahrain-oval, wet Turkish GP and every single Italian GP. The only other podium he missed was the season-opener. He may have lost second in the driver’s standings but was only 9 points behind Bottas.

Both him and Red Bull needed this kind of positive result that showed how much they’ve progressed over the year, not only to catch up to them but also to dominate when they’re not in peak form. Personally as well, it was good to see Max and the team all smiles at the end of a rigorous season which should help the spur them on for the following season less than a 100 days away and the testing phase even closer than that. 

Mercedes had their drivers do donuts on the main straight to celebrate their 7th double world title. In an almost scripted dramatic fashion, the drivers parked with their cars facing directly each other, as if to say that the battle between them has not fizzled out in the slightest. The team set many new records this season and it seemed like their least challenging year in F1 till date. However, for Bottas, 2020 may well be a season to forget as the Finn was plagued with misfortunes and mistakes that caused him to miss 6 of 17 potential podiums. Meanwhile, Lewis won 11 races this season to finish 124 points ahead of his teammate and nearest rival. 2021 might be Bottas’ last chance to fight for the title in the best possible car and even the fans would like to see Hamilton to be tested in his chase for this 8th world title. 

We also saw donuts from Kevin Magnussen in his final race in F1 as he parts way from Haas. His teammate Romain Grosjean has also exited but he was at home recovering from his brutal crash just two weekends ago. 

Perhaps the only team more excited than Red Bull Racing that night was the McLaren crew as their drivers crossed the line in P5 & P6 for the best possible result. Sainz could still pick up a possible time penalty for driving unnecessary slow in the pit lane as McLaren double-stacked which could have hindered Stroll’s race according to Racing Point. However, with Lance finishing a long way behind in P9 and Sainz well clear of P7 Daniel, McLaren still had enough points to claim third in the Constructor’s championship. A brilliant result for the customer team going forward, towards a Mercedes-powered future and the extra couple of millions from the prize pool should help. More on the team’s season and their future in the upcoming round-up.

We already mentioned that Daniel Ricciardo finished P7 in his final race for Renault but as a neat little farewell present, he snagged the extra point for the fastest lap from Max on the last one. The Aussie finished 5th in the Driver’s standings and we did get to see him on the podium a couple of times this year. His teammate Esteban Ocon finished P9 on the alternate tyre strategy. But we saw some impressive racing for him to overtake Stroll on the last lap:

The Renaults were split by Pierre Gasly who had a strong performance but just didn’t have the pace to challenge further up the order. His teammate just missed out in the points with a P11 finish. While unconfirmed, it seems close to certain that we won’t see Kvyat on the grid in 2021. 

Lance Stroll did end up picking the final point as his second stint didn’t quite pan out as hoped. He could have overtaken Gasly but ended up going wide and lost all his momentum a second time. Racing Point ended up 4th in the Constructor’s championship, just 7 points behind McLaren. The team had suffered mechanical issues a few times this season which saw them miss crucial points, including a potential podium at the Bahrain GP. They had also been docked 15 points when it was discovered that their rear brake duct was pretty much taken from the 2019 Mercedes W10. All things combined had cost them a better result in the final standings but their race results proved how capable the team was with the Mercedes power units and capitalised on the absence of the Ferrari in the top order. Sergio Perez ended his season with a DNF but still finished 4th in the driver’s standings. An exceptional result considering he’s missed two races due to testing positive for COVID and had two non-scoring finishes as well. While it seems unlikely that we’ll see Sergio on the grid in 2021, it seems certain the teams would love to make room for him in 2022.

The 2020 finale was a good representation of badly the season went for Ferrari as Leclerc and Vettel finished P12 and P13, behind Kimi Raikkonen in P12. As a Tifosi, it’s been a hard season to watch the reds struggling for points, let alone podiums and wins. We did see Charles and Sebastian on the podium but most other races saw them languishing in the second half of the grid. Leclerc finished the points more often than Vettel with 6 DNFs between them which put Ferrari 6th in the Constructor’s standings. While Vettel will be moving on to greener pastures with Aston Martin Racing (Racing Point’s new name for 2021), it’s an uphill battle for the young Ferrari lineup of Leclerc and Sainz to help bring the team back towards the front of the pack to challenge Mercedes and Red Bull. 

After the rollercoaster of emotions at the Sakhir GP, George Russell was back in the Williams paddock for the season finale and finished P15. Hopefully, he’ll have a better car under him for 2021 with the team under new ownership so we see him more involved in the middle order.  

Since there’ll be a fair number of departures and transfers ahead of the 2021 season, we were treated to some special tributes in the form of the helmet design and radio messages. We’ll cover the special designs in a special post so stay tuned for that. But here’s the usual compilation of the best radio messages this weekend, courtesy of the Formula 1 YouTube channel (Warning: There’s some real tear-jerkers in there with some chirpy ones from the McLaren boys):

That’s it for the 2020 Formula 1 season but we’ll still have the round-up story coming this weekend for you. Feel free to share your thoughts on the Abu Dhabi GP in the comments below, subscribe to the Auto Loons for more updates and follow us on Twitter with @autoloons.

Final race standings

  1. M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda — 1:36:28.645
  2. V. Bottas Mercedes +15.976
  3. L. Hamilton Mercedes +18.415
  4. A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +19.987
  5. L. Norris McLaren Renault +60.729
  6. C. Sainz McLaren Renault +65.662
  7. D. Ricciardo Renault +73.748
  8. P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +89.718
  9. E. Ocon Renault +101.069
  10. L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +102.738
  11. D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda +1 lap
  12. K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 lap
  13. C. Leclerc Ferrari +65.312
  14. S. Vettel Ferrari +1 lap
  15. G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +1 lap
  16. A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 lap
  17. N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes +1 lap
  18. K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +1 lap
  19. P. Fittipaldi Haas Ferrari +2 laps
  20. S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes DNF

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