F1 2020 season concludes with a win for Verstappen
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen clinched his second victory of the 2020 Formula 1 season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale, besting the Mercedes-AMG Petronas duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton at the Yas Marina Circuit. This was especially significant, as Mercedes has taken every pole and race win in Abu Dhabi since 2014. Verstappen took pole during qualifying, before converting it with a dominant performance under the floodlights, as he led home Bottas by 15 seconds, with Hamilton – fresh from his Covid-19 recovery, coming in just behind his teammate.
Max Verstappen may not have started on pole so far this season, but he nailed his start from P1, with Valtteri Bottas alongside him and held P1, as Bottas somewhat misjudged his exit at Corner 1, but doing enough to stay in front of Lewis Hamilton behind. The sense of competition hadn’t waned for the rest of the pack either, though Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen had a wild lock-up into Turn 1 and was lucky to avoid getting collected by Racing Point’s Perez – while the Dane was ultimately Lap 1's biggest gainer, jumping from P20 to P17, partly thanks to a lovely move around the outside of Williams’ Nicholas Latifi at Corner 8.
Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow’s Sebastian Vettel nipped past teammate Charles Leclerc for P12, while Ocon briefly got ahead of Scuderia AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly for P10 – although Gasly would fight back a lap later to reclaim the position. Verstappen had soon, opened a sufficient gap that when DRS came into effect, he was out of range of Bottas, quickly opening the gap to 2 seconds. Teammate Alex Albon, too, moved past the McLaren of Lando Norris – who had pipped him to P4 in qualifying – on Lap 6.
BWT Racing’s (and last week’s winner) Sergio Perez had started P19 but was up to P14 by Lap 10 when he suffered a transmission issue going into Corner 17 – a cruel end to the Mexican’s final race with Racing Point, and perhaps final race in F1 altogether. A Virtual Safety Car was called, with Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton and Albon diving into the pits, along with a number of the midfield runners – while with marshals struggling to move Perez’ stricken vehicle.
With the order rejigged slightly courtesy those pit stops, Lap 14 saw the top 10 with Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Red Bull Racing’s Alex Albon, Renault DP world’s Daniel Ricciardo (who had not pitted and was still on the hard tyres), McLaren F1’s Lando Norris, Vettel, Leclerc (both Ferraris not pitting, with Vettel having started on hard tyres to Leclerc’s mediums), Sainz and Stroll – with all the drivers who had pitted taking on hard tyres. Sainz, meanwhile, was set to be investigated after the race for deliberately driving slowly in the pit lane.
Post the safety car period, Verstappen was faced with the prospect of reinforcing his lead, and to that end put in a perfect restart and banged in his fastest lap of the race at that point to be 1.5 seconds ahead of Bottas by the end of the lap, while Hamilton was 2 seconds back from Bottas. Leclerc, meanwhile, had been passed in quick succession by Sainz, Stroll, Gasly and Ocon, coming in from P12 to put on hard tyres on Lap 22, emerging P19 and last.
By Lap 28 (halfway point), Verstappen had stretched his lead over Bottas to 5.5 seconds and close to 8 seconds over Hamilton – the Mercedes reportedly using their MGU-K at a sub-optimal level in order to preserve them. Albon was just about hanging on in P4, five seconds adrift of Hamilton, the Thai driver then 15s up the road from the fight for P5 between Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris – while Sainz’ pace had been strong since the Safety Car restart, allowing him to climb from P9 to P7 behind teammate Norris. Vettel, meanwhile, was holding onto P8, before pitting in Lap 35 and swapping for mediums, while letting Stroll, Gasly, Ocon and Kvyat pass by, and rejoining at P15.
The traffic behind Vettel had been a blessing for Ricciardo, who made his first stop from P5 on Lap 39 for mediums, slotting back in ahead of Gasly (who had passed Stroll) in P7, with Ricciardo setting off after the McLaren duo who were now around 20s up the road from him. With ten laps to go, and Verstappen now an unbelievable 9.6 seconds ahead of Bottas and over 12 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Albon, at P4, was seven seconds off the Mercedes. Ultimately, despite the lead four’s advantage, all of them opted against making a second stop, leaving Verstappen to let the laps tick down before crossing the line to take the tenth victory of his career, and second of a season so disproportionately dominated by Mercedes.
So well that was it, the end of the unforgettable 2020 Formula 1 season mired by perhaps the biggest delay ever, despite which once the proceedings got underway, it went all guns blazing. The focus now, in the days to come, will be the pre-2021 season testing, with the first big news so far being the return of Fernando Alonso (who also wowed spectators at Abu Dhabi in a unique way).