Abu Dhabi: An engrossing tactical battle between Red Bull and Ferrari in the season-finale saw Charles Leclerc finish second behind world champion Max Verstappen, preventing a Red Bull 1-2 in the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday.
Mexican Sergio Perez drove a blinder of a race but Leclarc and Ferrari adopted a single-pit strategy that gave the Monegasque the edge in the closing stages. The time gap was too much for the Mexican overcome in the 58-lap race, despite clocking a quicker lap in the final stages to finish third in the race and the driver stangings.
Verstappen, who had won the title in advance this year, unlike the last when he edged out Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, scored his 15th win of the year, extending his domination this season.
The tussle for the second place was in complete focus in the finale and the drama continued all the way till the final lap after both Perez and Leclerc had 290 points each before the finale. The Mexican said he was confident with the pace and felt that he would be able to catch up with his rival after the second pitstop. but that was not to be, and finished just 1.3 seconds behind Leclerc.
In Brazil, Perez must have rued his bad luck after Verstappen refused to concede his place to his teammate, creating a controversy at that time. Red Bull ace Verstappen, however, clarified that the differences have been sorted before the race in Abu Dhabi, and in the end, that incident didn’t prove a decisive factor with five points separating Leclerc and Perez, finishing at 305 and 300 points respectively.
“I knew the only possibility to beat Checo (Perez) today was with a different strategy and playing with the tire management, which we did really well today,” Leclerc said. “I really hope next year we can do a step forward to fight for the championship.”
Seven-time champion Hamilton, who had a miserable year, ended on a disappointing note when he had to retire with a hydraulic problem, finishing an F1 season without a win for the first time in his career. The 37-year-old went for broke to reclaim his past glory, but certainly his car didn’t help his case and had to pull out despite running the race with a sigle-pit stop, similar to winner Verstappen.
“Incredible to win again here, 15th win of the season is unbelievable,” Dutchman Verstappen said. “It’s been really enjoyable to work with the whole team and to be able to achieve something like this.”
Ferrai’s Carlos Sainz, who overtook Hamilton in the straight to prove Ferrari’s supremacy as early as the 10th lap, finished fourth after being elated midway though the race when he said on team radio that the pace of the car is good, while George Russell contiuned to show Mercedes’ accedancy with a fifth-place finish.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who won the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2009 before winning twice in 2010 and 2013, ensured he finished his career on a high by claiming a point at his favourite track with his 10th place.
“Couple of more points in this season would have been nice. It’s a different race and overall a big day. Last two years have disappointing in sporting perspectivem but it’s an absolute joy in my career. A big thank you all,” said the German, who has 53 wins in his career to remain third in the all-time winners’ list behind Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91).
Legendary racer Schumacher’s son, Mick Schumacher, also had a disappointing end to his stint with Haas, taking the 16th spot in the season-finale, while Fernando Alonso, who is moving to Aston Martin next season, also had to retire in the final race in Alpine colours.