Shirtless, sweaty and soaked in rose water, Lewis Hamilton celebrated a successful 2018 Formula 1 World Championship campaign with yet another victory – the 73rd of his career – under the Abu Dhabi floodlights.
It was a victory fitting of the Mercedes driver’s masterclass run to a fifth Drivers’ Championship title. His launch from pole position was flawless and despite fleeting concerns about an early switch to Supersoft tyres, the Englishman controlled proceedings for the remainder of the 55-lap race.
The major drama happened behind him when Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault was flipped over by Haas’ Romain Grosjean at Turn 9, sending the German barrel-rolling into the barriers. His car came to a rest upside-down and briefly caught fire, with Hülkenberg helplessly trapped in the cockpit as his path to extricate himself was impeded by the very Halo cockpit system designed to protect him.
Marshals quickly extinguished the fire and righted the car so he could get out, but the incident became the Halo’s first test case of this type of incident and it failed.
The field was held behind the Safety Car for four laps, with the early order seeing Hamilton leading from teammate Valtteri Bottas, followed by the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen.
Hülkenberg was helplessly trapped in the cockpit as his path to extricate himself was impeded by the very Halo cockpit system designed to protect him. The incident became the Halo’s first test case of this type of incident and it failed.
The race resumed on Lap 5 and was neutralised by a Virtual Safety Car just two laps later when Räikkönen ground to a halt on the start/finish straight after his Ferrari’s electrics failed. It was an unhappy end to the Finn’s second stint at Ferrari and put his hold on maintaining third place in the Drivers’ Championship standings at risk.
Mercedes took the call to pit Hamilton behind the VSC, dispensing his Ultrasoft tyres for Supersofts. The red-walled tyres would have to run for a further 48 laps and the Englishman – who rejoined the circuit in fifth place initially had misgivings about the call from the pit wall.
Bottas now led from Vettel and the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, with the Dutchman putting in some feisty overtaking moves on his Brazilian Grand Prix nemesis Esteban Ocon as he recovered from a sluggish start.
After initially trying and failing to pass Verstappen, Hamilton held back to protect his tyres and waited for those ahead of him to pit. Verstappen, Vettel and Bottas all peeled off to swap tyres, leaving the Renault-bound Ricciardo up front on an alternate strategy.
Once the Australian pitted, Hamilton resumed the lead of the race and was never really threatened, although the gap back to his rivals yoyoed as each driver worked their way past the backmarkers.
Bottas appeared to be struggling on his set of Supersoft tyres and after being passed by Vettel for second place, the Finn quickly fell into the clutches of Verstappen. The pair briefly traded positions on successive laps with DRS-assisted passes before Verstappen forcefully eased Bottas aside through the Turns 11/12/13 complex.
Ricciardo followed suit soon after to demote the Mercedes driver to fifth and he quickly headed into the pits for a second pit stop. With sixth-placed Carlos Sainz Jr. well behind in his Renault, Bottas retained fifth place but had a lonely run to the flag to end his 2018 campaign winless.
Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and Force India’s Sergio Pérez battled for seventh place in what was an important battle for both teams as they disputed seventh and eighth places in the Constructors’ Championship standings. With their respective teammates, Marcus Ericsson and Esteban Ocon, both out with engine-related failures, the battle went the way of Leclerc but Sauber fell four points short of drawing level with its rival team.
The two Haas’ of Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top-ten points-scoring positions, with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso finishing eleventh in his swansong F1 outing. The Spaniard was issued three separate five-second time penalties for repeatedly shortcutting the Turn 8/9 chicane in his attempts to close down the gap to tenth-placed Magnussen.
|FORMULA 1 2018 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (55 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||55||1:39:40.382|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||55||+ 2.581|
|3.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||55||+ 12.706|
|4.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||55||+ 15.379|
|5.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||55||+ 47.957|
|6.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||55||+ 1:12.548|
|7.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||55||+ 1:30.789|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||55||+ 1:31.275|
|9.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||54||1 lap behind|
|10.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||54||1 lap behind|
|11.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||54||1 lap behind|
|12.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||54||1 lap behind|
|13.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||54||1 lap behind|
|14.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||54||1 lap behind|
|15.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||54||1 lap behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps|
|DNF.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||46||Engine|
|DNF.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||44||Engine|
|DNF.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||24||Power Loss|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||6||Electrical|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||0||Collision|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||54||1:40.867|
- Fernando Alonso was issued three 5-second post-race time penalties for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team