Double Apex’s F1 writer brings us his last report of the 2019 race season, the F1 Review Abu Dhabi 2019
The last Grand Prix of the 2019 season at Abu Dhabi resulted, not for the first time, in an intense season ending with a whimper, as the race was dominated by the reigning world champion, Lewis Hamilton. The venue has not been known for scintillating Grands Prix, although there has been a phenomenal race or two in the supporting classes. Making his 250th start in this Grand Prix, the Englishman was never challenged when the lights went out, taking his 84th career victory and his 11th for the 2019 season. Nobody could hold a candle to the six-time world champion this season.
Click here to read an interesting opinion piece on why Lewis Hamilton has ended the careers of so many team mates.
The F1 paddock bid Nico Hulkenberg a fond farewell after his 177th F1 race start. Alain Prost, four-time F1 world champion and Renault F1’s advisor, had an emotional conversation with the likable German on the grid, which led to them embracing. “The Hulk” stated he would go out and enjoy his final race and, as a result, he outperformed teammate Daniel Ricciardo all weekend.
It will not show in the final result, though: while running eighth in the closing stages of the race (and running as high as fourth earlier), he lost two positions in quick succession (to Sergio Perez’s Racing Point-Mercedes and Danil Kyvat’s Toro Rosso-Honda, respectively) and 10 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz (McLaren-Renault) with eight laps to go. He slipped out of the points on the final lap and limped home in 12th place. F1 fans worldwide voted him Driver of the Day. Farewell, “Hulk”.
Mercedes-Benz dominated proceedings this weekend, with Hamilton taking pole position and teammate Valtteri Bottas shadowing him on the timesheets. The Finn’s machine had to undergo an engine change, however, and he was forced to start from the back of the grid. Bottas put in a gritty performance, carving his way into fourth place by lap 30 and putting pressure on Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) for a podium finish in the dying stages of the race. Despite his best efforts, it was not to be. While the heart voted for Hulkenberg as Driver of the Day, Bottas won this fan’s vote for the drive of the day.
Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing-Honda) could not match the blistering pace shown at Interlagos, however, he showed well on the timesheets all weekend. He chased Hamilton off the line at the start, but was soon blitzed by Leclerc’s Ferrari, with the Monegasque pulling away comfortably. After the first round of pit stops, the Dutchman made inroads on Leclerc’s lead by a good second per lap, easing past him into finish a comfortable second.
It appears the Dutchman is quickly learning the radio misinformation tactic that Hamilton is a master of, as he kept complaining of his engine producing a “handbrake effect” despite his speed. He was pacified by his race engineer when told “there’s nothing we can do about it – but you’re quick enough”. Teammate Alex Albon did a solid job to finish sixth, although he lost his fifth place to Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) on the final lap.
Hedging their bets
Ferrari went into the race splitting tactics with its two drivers. Leclerc started on medium rubber, while Vettel opted for the softs. Vettel couldn’t put his soft rubber to good use, trying valiantly to pass Verstappen in the early stages, and was hopelessly outpaced by Leclerc in the race. He stuck to “Plan A”, which was a two-stop strategy, and managed to scrabble past Albon to finish fifth.
Leclerc’s “Plan C” was also a two-stopper, switching to soft tyres for the last stint, but he couldn’t close down Verstappen and he barely managed to keep Bottas at bay. While he was classified as finishing third, his machine is being investigated by the stewards for a discrepancy in what was declared was in the car by the team in qualifying with what actually was in his mount when checked before leaving pit lane (!).
As ever, the top three teams took the top six places, with Perez finishing seventh ahead of Lando Norris (McLaren-Renault), Kyvat and Sainz after Hulkenberg dropped out of the top ten.
While the stewards investigated an incident between Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) and Robert Kubica (Williams-Mercedes) tripping over each other in the latter stages of the race, they chose not to investigate Lance Stroll (Racing Point-Mercedes) punt the rear wheel of Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso-Honda) such that he clipped Perez and lost his front wing. The Frenchman’s race was compromised and rejoined the race over a minute behind the 19th runner. Stroll eventually retired from the race and Gasly managed to pass Kubica and finish 18th by race end.
Sun sets on 2019
While the 2019 season has come to an end, there will be testing in the coming weeks to keep fans happy. Esteban Ocon is chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel again, this time in a Renault, while Nicholas Latifi replaces Kubica in the Williams seat. Now the excruciating four-month wait before the next season…
Click here to watch video race highlights.