Yas Marina (United Arab Emirates) (AFP)
Max Verstappen claimed his second victory of the season and the 10th of his career on Sunday with a clinical victory for Red Bull in an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which closes the pedestrian season.
The 23-year-old Dutchman dominated from start to finish, turning his third pole position into a show of speed, skill and flawless strategy to leave the two Mercedes well-beaten behind him.
It was the first time he had won a light flag victory in Formula 1.
“What a way to end a season – a fantastic companion,” his engineer Red Bull said at the end on team radio. “After such a busy year, I think everyone was a little tired at the end of it, but it’s amazing,” he replied.
Verstappen clocked 15.976 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who at least regained some pride as he took second place after his poor performance at the Sakhir Grand Prix, and 18.415 ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton.
“I am so happy,” Verstappen said. “I really enjoyed it and it’s a great victory and a great day for the team. I’ll take advantage of the podium – and come home! ”
Returning to action after recovering from a Covid-19 fight, Hamilton struggled to make an impact as he battled past Alex Albon, who finished fourth in the second Red Bull, just 1.5 seconds away. champion.
“You can’t win them all,” Hamilton said. “And, considering the last two weeks that I’ve spent, I’m really happy with the weekend, even I wasn’t 100%.
“But, congratulations to Max. It was a tough race for me and I’m glad it’s all over. It’s a fantastic result to get two podiums anyway. ”
His team-mate Mercedes Bottas said: “Red Bull were too fast today. We couldn’t get close to them and couldn’t follow them, but it was a solid race on my end. ”
Lando Norris came fifth ahead of his McLaren Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz, a solid display of the precocious couple who secured third place in the Constructors’ Championship on the day they announced that an American consortium was buying a major stake in the team.
Daniel Ricciardo, in his last race for Renault before replacing Sainz at McLaren, was seventh ahead of Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, Esteban Ocon in the second Renault and Lance Stroll of Racing Point.
– Clean start –
After a hot sunny day in the desert, Verstappen got off to a good start from his first pole of the year to free himself from the two “black arrows”. Bottas recovered from a slow start to hold onto second place ahead of Hamilton as the field settled in without incident on the first lap.
Vettel, in his last race for Ferrari, passed teammate Leclerc to take 12th place, but it was not a happy race for either driver. Leclerc finished 13th with Vettel a return spot, a disappointing end to a disappointing season for the Italian team.
Sergio Perez’s Racing Point lost power on lap 10, resulting in the arrival of the Virtual Safety Car, followed by the deployment of the “full” Safety Car.
For Perez, winner of the Sakhir Grand Prix the previous weekend, it was a disappointing end to his 135 races with the Silverstone roster.
On lap 20, Verstappen was 3.7 seconds ahead of Bottas who led Hamilton by 1.9. Albon, fourth, was still five seconds adrift.
Returning to racing for the first time since recovering from Covid-19, Hamilton was operating below full power – both physically and with his end-of-cycle motor – and, after taking a dive, was not satisfied with its new “hard” tires.
“It doesn’t seem like a good strategy,” he said. Shortly after, he added: “I have a really hard time with balance. Is the floor ok? ”
It became clear that Mercedes was saving tires and horsepower, to preserve reliability, in the unlikely hope of racing at Verstappen for a late flag race.
But the Dutchman took the leap to endorse his potential and that of Red Bull for next season.
© 2020 AFP