Conclusions from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Michelle Foster


Lewis Hamilton’s dominant Abu Dhabi win offered a snapshot of his 2019 season while Ferrari once again ran into trouble.

Technical problem gives glimpse into life without DRS

Abu Dhabi’s post-race fireworks are always a spectacular sight, but Yas Marina also delivered on the track in a race defined by a slow burn without the drag reduction system in the early phase and some brilliant overtaking in the last couple of laps. A technical issue meant race control could not activate DRS for the first dozen laps or so, and the on-track action was compelling as a result.

Sebastian Vettel’s battle with Valtteri Bottas was particularly noteworthy as two evenly matched frontrunners had to rely on guile and skill in the braking zone. This made for a rather pleasing departure from the usual DRS overtake that is completed well before drivers have to stomp on the brakes.

While the mid part of the grand prix was fairly sedate, it came alive as the laps counted down with the likes of Vettel, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz – who had fresher rubber – attacking Alex Albon, Lando Norris and Nico Hulkenberg respectively. Both the Ferrari, Racing Point and McLaren drivers completed dramatic late moves, whereas Bottas got to within a second of Charles Leclerc but couldn’t quite knick the final podium place from the Ferrari on-track.

The 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was by no means a classic but, for better or worse, it did highlight how beguiling racing can be even without DRS, while also underscoring the importance of Pirelli tyres.

Hamilton caps peerless season with peerless weekend

Lewis Hamilton won from pole position for just the third time all season. Given that he won 11 times in 2019, it is a staggering statistic that shows just how good the Brit’s race craft has been and how innovative Mercedes have had to be in race situations as for large portions of the campaign they have not had the quickest car in qualifying trim.

In Abu Dhabi, Hamilton broke clear of the pack immediately, and was almost two seconds clear after the first lap. It was quite obvious that no one would stop the six-time Champion from winning to cap another fantastic season for the indomitable Silver Arrows and the exceptional W10, which Hamilton described as “a work of art”.

Farewell to the Hulk and Kubica

“It’s been a pleasure working with you over the last three years,” said Hulkenberg’s engineer on team radio after the race. “I can’t say the same,” replied the German, who then said he was “pulling your leg.” The German goes into 2020 without a drive and at 32 is unlikely to add to his 177 race starts – and is even more unlikely to ever score that elusive podium.

A fan-led effort from Reddit users to vote him as driver of the day was successful, giving Hulkenberg a mini victory of sorts in his final grand prix. But this was a race that characterises Hulkenberg’s career as Sainz passed him on the last lap to steal the final point. So much promise with so little to show at the end of the day.

Robert Kubica, meanwhile, finished last yet again, yet his F1 comeback after a horrific set of injuries was one of the stories of the season. The Pole is clearly not the driver he was before and just making it back to the grid was a superhuman feat from a driver who, had he not been injured, could well have been a World Champion.

Perez finishes on a high

The team formerly known as Force India has been through a tumultuous 18 months or so. With some stability in place, the team has started to prove its capabilities. Perez, who started in 10th on the hard tyre, drove another fine race to nurse his tyres deep into the grand prix. The Mexican is a master at managing tyres and maximising results, and his seventh place was a strong candidate for drive of the day.

Tears at McLaren

McLaren also delivered a memorable radio exchange with Norris admitted “I think I’m crying” after his race engineer’s emotional speech about how good it has been to work with the young Brit through the year.

The Woking-based outfit have a real gem in Norris who outqualified Sainz 11-10 through 2019. The youngster lacked his team-mate’s race pace and consistency on Sundays but this was an excellent debut campaign for Norris – and more importantly he has played a key role in McLaren’s rebuilding.

More questions for Ferrari

From the botched qualifying to Leclerc’s fuel irregularity to the ill-judged early pit stop and problem at Vettel’s first stop, Ferrari made more mistakes in one grand prix weekend than Mercedes and Red Bull make collectively over half a season.

Leclerc did well to finish third on the road despite a litany of issues and said after the race that he is eager to deliver for Ferrari in 2020. But for that to happen Ferrari will first have to deliver for him.

And in 105 days’ time we will know whether they have.

Richard F Rose

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