The 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix delivered a fitting finale for a season that has inarguably offered the best drama, suspense and racing in the hybrid turbo era of Formula 1. The unstoppable Lewis Hamilton went on to break another record for the modern era, scoring more than 400 points in a single season. The record (397 points, in 2013) was held by Sebastian Vettel, a 19-race season he boringly dominated during his days at Red Bull Racing. In contrast, the 2018 Formula 1 Season seemed less dominant for Mercedes-Hamilton and definitely less boring. And by the way, Hamilton also went on to become the only driver of his generation to strip his top while celebrating on the podium. While we haven't checked, we wouldn't be surprised if James Hunt held a similar record for his time.
- Formula 1 (@F1) November 25, 2018
The 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will also be remembered for Will Smith and Formula 1's excessive use of his presence that saw fans complain on social media. While it is heartening to see A-list celebrities and their love for our sport, Smith's promotions did seem intrusive and over-the-top. One wonders if Mercedes-Hamilton would have agreed to such gimmicks if the championships had gone down to the wire!
11 poles, 11 wins for #44
After clinching his 11th pole position of the season in Saturday's qualifying session, Hamilton drove a controlled and almost unchallenged race on Sunday to clinch his 11th win of the season. After making a clean start, Mercedes chose to play it safe with Hamilton by pitting him for fresh rubber under the Virtual Safety Car on lap 7. The early stop meant that Hamilton was required to not only nurse his tyres till the end of the race but also fend off any attack from drivers on alternate strategies. While the late-race attack didn't come, Hamilton did well to make his super-soft tyres last 48 laps and finish comfortably ahead of Sebastian Vettel (+2.5 seconds) and Max Verstappen (+12.7 seconds).
Vettel, who is yet to win a race since his last triumph at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix in August, ended the season in second place in the Drivers' Championship " a whooping 88 points down (highest margin of victory for Hamilton). The points difference certainly doesn't offer a perspective on how closely fought this season otherwise was; or in fact, it offers a perspective on how dominant Hamilton-Mercedes have been in the second-half of the season. Ever since their unexpected retirement in Austria, Hamilton's worst finish has been 4th place (Mexico), apart from scoring 8 wins and 3 podium positions to score 213 points out of a possible 250. Like we've said before, the 2018 Formula 1 Season has affirmed Hamilton's legendary status in the sport, statistically and otherwise.
Verstappen's Championship Boost
Max Verstappen's run of form since his last retirement in the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix saw him jump Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas for 4th place in the Drivers' Championship. The Red Bull Racing driver missed 3rd place to Kimi Raikkonen by only 2 points " a position that would have been a certainty given the number of misses Verstappen has had this season, the last being a race win in Brazil a fortnight ago. As for Raikkonen, his last race with Ferrari ended in a retirement thanks to an electronics issue on his car. 2018 was Raikkonen's best season as a Ferrari driver since his return to the team in 2014.
Worst-ever Championship Finish For A Mercedes Driver
Valtteri Bottas, the other Finn, started the race 2nd but was overtaken on track by Vettel and both the Red Bull Racing drivers as he managed only a 5th place finish. Ironically, the pre-race chatter saw fans wonder if Hamilton would gift Bottas the win to thank him for his 'wingman' role this season. Even if Hamilton wished to do so, Bottas was way far behind to pick up a return gift for his gesture in Russia (where he gifted Hamilton the win). Bottas' 5th place finish in the Drivers' Championship is the lowest for any Mercedes driver in this hybrid-turbo era. The Finnish driver is also the only driver among the top-3 teams to have not won a race this season, although he came agonisingly close in Baku and Russia.
Thankfully, Daniel Ricciardo's last race for Red Bull Racing didn't end in another retirement. In fact, the Aussie driver ended up leading the race for several laps as his team attempted to run in him an alternate strategy. The best he could manage in the race was a 4th place finish - a position he has finished in 7 times this season. Strangely enough, Ricciardo's only podium appearances were in China and Monaco " two races that he won in the first half of the season.
As with every race, there were plenty of battles in the midfield. Nico Hulkenberg's opening lap scrap and nudge with Romain Grosjean saw him rolling over and landing upside-down on the barriers, an incident that brought out the Safety Car. Hulkenberg's crash posed a real-life test for the marshals to extract him with the halo. Thankfully, Hulkenberg was unhurt and calm enough to relay a funny radio message to his team while lying upside down! His retirement meant a no-score for Renault, but this didn't impact Hulkenberg's 7th place (also counted as the best of the rest) in the Drivers' Championship. Sergio Perez, who finished the race in a crucial 8th place and clinched 8th place in the championship, was followed by Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz Jr. in the top-10.
A scary start to the final race of the season for @HulkHulkenberg *
- Formula 1 (@F1) November 25, 2018
Also in the Drivers' Championship, the biggest losers of the tight midfield battles were Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon who finished 11th and 12th respectively. Alonso's pre-season form saw him hold onto top-10 positions till a few races ago, while Ocon paid the price for disqualification in United States and retirement in Abu Dhabi. The 2018 Formula 1 Season will go down in history as the first season where all competing drivers scored points.
Ironic that all Renault-powered cars are running while we have had one retirement each for a Ferrari, Mercedes and Honda powered car. RAI's retirement was related to electronics though. #F1 #AbuDhabiGP
- Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) November 25, 2018
In the Constructors' Championship, Renault secured 4th place ahead of Haas. Despite being under threat from Force India in the second half of the season, Mclaren held on to 6th place by 10 points, while Sauber's late season push saw them finish just four points behind Force India. If all teams are able to carry forward their form into 2019, fans are definitely in for an exciting season already. In the top-3, Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and Mercedes are closely matched than ever before while in the mid-field, there are five teams (Renault, Haas, Mclaren, Force India and Sauber) that are consistently fighting for positions 7-10 at every Grand Prix.
Formula 1 and Mclaren had several tributes for Alonso's last race in Formula 1. But expectedly enough, Alonso was already dropping hints at coming back. There are unconfirmed rumours that he might test Mclaren's 2019 racing car. Either way, it was heartwarming to see Vettel and Hamilton pay tribute to Alonso after the race by driving alongside, performing donuts and greeting him on the main straight. To put Alonso's misery of the last few seasons into perspective, Hamilton scored more points in the last seven races than Alonso did in the last four seasons!
- McLaren (@McLarenF1) November 25, 2018
Back to In Abu Dhabi, retirements for Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Ocon meant that there were several drivers in the running for scoring points in the race, one of them being the retired-for-now Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard, who was 11th, tried chasing down Haas' Magnussen but without much luck. His compatriot Carlos Sainz Jr., also the driver who will replace him in Mclaren in 2019, drove a fine race that saw him use the same strategy as Ricciardo to finish 6th. Haas' Grosjean and Magnussen scored yet another double points for the team (9th and 10th), while Charles Leclerc ended his rookie season with Sauber with another points scoring finish in 7th.
The race also offered exciting wheel-to-wheel battles, starting with old rivals Verstappen-Ocon who battled and touched each other (again!) in the opening few laps followed by a fantastic and go-kart styled overtake on Bottas by Verstappen on lap 38. We also had a three way battle between Vandoorne, Grosjean and Ocon mid-race, one that reminded us that Formula 1 races can be interesting mid-way too!
Not long after lights out, these two were straight back at it in Abu Dhabi
- Formula 1 (@F1) November 25, 2018
It was the first time since 2008 that both Ferrari drivers ended in the top-3 in the Drivers' Championship. Will they go one better in 2019? Or will Hamilton-Mercedes extend their dominance and records further? Hamilton is only 18 wins away from Michael Schumacher's record of 91 race wins and the rate at which he is going, 2020 could be the season when equals this record too. And then there's Verstappen, Leclerc and Gasly who would be looking to mount their own championship challenges. But this is Formula 1 and it is best to take each race as it comes. As for now, the next race is over a 100 days away, so enjoy the down time. We will bring to you special features on Firstpost like we always do.