There was never any serious doubt that Lewis Hamilton would win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, but much like the rest of the 2019 Formula 1 season, that didn’t mean there was a lack of intrigue and drama behind him – in this case right to the chequered flag at the floodlit Yas Marina circuit.
Six talking points from the Abu Dhabi GP
Lewis Hamilton turns it up to 11
Even the man himself has admitted his season has lacked the “wow” laps that have marked him out in the past. But while Lewis Hamilton’s pole position was ‘only’ his fifth of the campaign to draw him level with team-mate Valtteri Bottas for the season, his performance the following day reminded the world that the six-time world champion has raced in another stratosphere this season. Around Yas Marina, he was simply untouchable.
The victory was his 11th out of 21 races and moved his career tally on to 84. That’s just seven short of Michael Schumacher’s record of 91, a mark we used to think would forever be out of reach. Now Hamilton is surely within range of equalling and beating it during 2020.
But will Lewis, 35 in January, continue to shine in silver beyond next season, or will he turn to the red side? That was the hot talking point of the weekend, after the Italian press reported two meetings have taken place this year between the British driver and Ferrari chairman John Elkann. The flirting increased when team principal Mattia Binotto openly admitted in a press conference that he could only be “happy” Hamilton is currently contract-free for 2021. Then the man himself refused to rule out such a move.
In truth, it seems unlikely Hamilton would give up all he has invested in since leaving McLaren for Mercedes in 2013. Then again, this is Ferrari we are talking about – and like so many greats of the past, he might not be able to resist the lure of that old scarlet magic.
Hamilton at Ferrari? We wouldn’t put money on it – but stranger things have happened.
Ferrari’s blushes spared this time
Then again, any temptation must surely be diluted by the mess Ferrari has made of this past season, even with a car that was for a time the quickest on the grid.
In Abu Dhabi on Saturday, the team mis-timed Charles Leclerc’s bid for a final qualifying run, leaving him little chance to cross the line before the chequered flag fell. Then to add to the embarrassment, the Monegasque raced under a cloud of potential disqualification after Ferrari’s claim of how much fuel Leclerc was running didn’t match the level measured by the race officials. Against the odds, Leclerc was left unpunished after the race, with the team copping an inconsequential €50,000 fine for the offence. At least his third-place podium was safe, although on a day when he’d been defeated by Max Verstappen’s Red Bull it was surely scant consolation.
Binotto has a mountain to climb if he is to make Ferrari a world beater. Does Hamilton need such a challenge at this late stage of his career?
Sergio Pérez makes a little go a long way
Early in his career, Sergio Pérez built a reputation for keeping his tyres alive way beyond their typical mortality rate, and he was at it again on Sunday, with a superb drive of endurance for Racing Point.
Starting 10th, Pérez nursed his hard-compound Pirellis for a remarkable 38 laps before finally giving them up, which gave him a clear tyre advantage over his rivals for the final 17. He used it to great effect, passing Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz Jr. and, on the very last lap, Lando Norris to secure a hard-earned seventh place. After Hamilton, it was surely the drive of the day.
Kudos too for Valtteri Bottas, who drove from the back of the grid after an engine change penalty to finish all the way up in fourth place – and almost dethroned Leclerc from his podium. Bottas finished ahead of a subdued Sebastian Vettel and Alexander Albon, with Pérez very much best of the rest.
Lando Norris beats himself up
McLaren’s British rookie took to a spot of self-flagellation for losing that seventh place to Pérez on the last lap, claiming he should have been more aggressive in his defence. And although the pass also cost Norris 10th place in the championship standings – to the Mexican himself, tipping extra salt on the wound – his conduct in and out of the car did him great credit at the end of a remarkably composed first season in F1.
Norris will learn from his errors this year. After all, that’s what rookie seasons are all about. All the good stuff is surely ahead of him.
Depressing performance from Renault
The yellow and black cars started a promising seventh and ninth on the grid, but finished on Sunday evening down in P11 and P12, with Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Nico Hülkenberg, whose F1 career appeared to end on a suitably flat note. Right at the end he lost a final career point to Sainz’s McLaren, then dropped a further place behind his team-mate. There looks to be no way back into F1 for the German right now.
Renault had one job in Abu Dhabi: to beat Toro Rosso and ensure a lowly fifth place in the constructors’ standings, behind its own customer team, McLaren. And with Daniil Kvyat shadowing Pérez’s performance by running long on hard Pirellis and jumping ahead of the Renaults to finish ninth, they couldn’t even manage that.
Lucky for the Anglo-French team that Pierre Gasly was effectively ruled out on the first lap after being tagged by Lance Stroll’s Racing Point. Renault finished the season just six points ahead of Toro Rosso – and with plenty of questions to answer about its F1 future.
DRS failure: accidentally on purpose?
One final footnote to the 2019 season: was the ‘technical failure’ that ruled out the use of F1’s Drag Reduction System (DRS) to artificially aid overtaking in the early laps a genuine problem, or was this a little bit of live experimentation from grand prix bosses?
What we do know is F1 sporting chief Ross Brawn is no fan of DRS and will hope the new aero-slashing rules for 2021 will make it an easy ‘gimmick’ to be dropped – if the new cars can follow each other closer and promote overtaking as they are supposed to.
Intentional or not, the lack of DRS in Abu Dhabi only proved that the current generation of F1 cars would struggle to race without it. Those early laps featured plenty of close racing but little overtaking. Fernando Alonso, watching from the pits, must have had uncomfortable flashbacks to 2010 and the day he lost a Ferrari world title when he couldn’t pass Vitaly Petrov’s slower Renault around here.
His frustration back then was translated as F1’s failure – and as it stands, nothing much has changed. Let’s pray those new cars in 2021 live up to expectations.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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