By Brian Armstead
In the final 58 Lap race of the best–ever Formula 1 season, in my humble opinion, the 16 turn Yaz Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi played host to the race to decide this year’s Driver’s and Constructor’s Championships.
Wow! What a start! Lewis Hamilton (P2) got a great reaction start to bolt ahead of Max Verstappen (P1) to take the lead. On turn 7 during the first lap, Verstappen cut under Hamilton, and forced him wide into the run-off area. Hamilton recovered to avoid the crash, and ultimately ended up back in the lead and further ahead of Max.
Laps 2-14 saw Hamilton consistently clocking “fastest lap” times, building a 4.6 second lead on Max by Lap 12.
Verstappen, who started the race on soft compound tires (Lewis-medium compound and better wear characteristics), and radioed to his team that he was “struggling” on the soft tires. Max “boxed” on Lap 14, and scored a superb 2.1-second pit time. Lewis then boxed on lap 15 with a 2.4 second time. Lewis came out in P2, with Sergio Perez, who had not yet boxed, claimed P1.
On Lap 20, Perez and Hamilton traded P1 in a classic duel to block Lewis and gain time for Max to catch up. The strategy worked, as Max cut his gap from 6 seconds to 1.3 seconds. Perez gave up P2 and the race was back on. Perez then hit the pits for a tire change and came out in P5.
By Lap 25, Hamilton continued his torrid pace, securing another fastest lap. AMG-Petronas’ Valterri Bottas, Lewis’ teammate, started poorly and lost a few slots, but by Lap 25 was up to P3, but had not yet boxed. Early on, hit ability to help Lewis was a non-factor. Also by Lap 25, Lewis and Max had built up a 20 second lead over the rest of the field.
On Lap 27, former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen’s (Alfa Romeo) brakes locked, forcing him into a barrier. He was able to make it back to the pits, where the car was retired. This was his last race in a storied Formula 1 career, where he started 349 races. George Russell (Williams) retired on Lap 28 with mechanical issues.
Valterri cane in on Lap 31, and came out in P9. By Lap 35, he passed Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc for P8.
Great technology on LeClerc’s and several other cars, where they have helmet-mounted cameras. The images from these cameras show the g-force beating drivers take during races.
On Lap 37, a Virtual Safety car as (Alfa Romeo) retired in a critical turn area. Verstappen came in for a new set of tires, and Hamilton stayed out on his older tires. Was Mercedes out strategized? Verstappen then posted his first Fastest Lap, and the race to the checkered flag was on.
By Lap 51, with Hamilton in front by 11.1 seconds and Verstappen having to clear five cars that were being lapped, the only issue was whether Lewis’s tires would hold up for the final laps.
On Lap 53, Nicholas Latifi in the Williams car crashed, totally resetting the race to the flag. Verstappen and Perez came in for fresh tires, while Hamilton’s tires were seriously aged. Petronas did not pit Hamilton, as it would have cost him the P1 position.
Perez retired on Lap 56 for mechanical reasons.
The race restarted on Lap 57.
At the end, a miracle for Verstappen. He won the race and the Driver’s Championship.