Abu Dhabi: A crash at the start, the loss of a Ferrari and it was five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton living up to his pre-race promise and signing off the season in style to keep the Mercedes dominance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — the 21st and final race on the 2018 F1 calendar at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday.
Chasing a none too easy 11th win this year with an expected challenge from the Red Bulls and Ferraris, the 33-year-old Hamilton was at his very best, finishing nearly two-and-a-half seconds clear of an ever-improving Ferrari of cherished foe Sebastian Vettel even as the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen followed in third and fourth.
See also: As it happened
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas — without a single win this season — continued with his spate of bad finishes after being temporarily in the lead in those early moments to finish in fifth, but ahead of Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc in sixth and seventh.
The two Mercedes led by Hamilton and Bottas got off to a swift start from the front grid.
But there was early drama as Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg became the first casualty after he clipped Romain Grosjean’s front left wheel. The watching crowd let out a collective gasp of shock and disbelief as he flipped his car twice and went airborne into the barrier on Turn 9. The 31-year-old German was trapped inside and could be heard crying out: “I’m hanging here like a cow. Get me out, there’s fire, there’s fire.”
The safety car was deployed but Hamilton was soon back in business followed by Bottas. Next it was Kimi Raikkonen’s turn to make the wrong headlines as his Ferrari came to a grinding halt at the start-finish line due to power failure, throwing the fight open for third overall in the drivers’ standings between Bottas and Verstappen.
Going into the final event the race had been open in the overall drivers’ standings as Bottas (237 points) and Verstappen (234) were both in the running to overhaul Raikkonen (251) for third.
Hulkenberg, meanwhile, was checked by the on-site medical centre and discharged after being kept under observation for a while. By the 11th lap, Hamilton was among the early ones from the top five opting to pit for the supersofts handing the lead to his teammate Bottas. Vettel started challenging Bottas for the top spot followed by the two Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Verstappen.
And by the time Bottas pitted for his first change, Ricciardo took over and started flying off into the distance chased down, with Hamilton more than six seconds off the pace. Bottas kept on his teammate’s tail a further two seconds down, while Vettel and Verstappen tried to keep up.
Midway through the race the rains began to fall lightly, but Australian Ricciardo continued his push while keeping the Mercedes off his tail until he finally pitted midway on the 29th lap, ceding the lead to Hamilton. Vettel continued improving with the fastest lap of 1:43.017 and, with 20 laps remaining it was the familiar sight of Hamilton’s Mercedes followed by the red of Vettel’s Ferrari.
Though less than three seconds behind, Bottas committed two crucial mistakes — the first one allowing Vettel to get past and then Verstappen nudged him clear on the 39th lap to fall down the pecking order.
Hamilton improved his Abu Dhabi record to two wins from four pole positions. He had earlier started from the front of the grid in 2009, 2012 and in 2016 — the only year the Brit managed to convert pole into a win. On both the other occasions he even failed to finish with a brake problem ending his 2009 race after 20 laps, while a fuel pressure problem had resulted in stoppage after 19 laps in 2012.
Running in the final race of his career, Fernando Alonso finished in 11th and just outside the points to bring down the curtains to a great career in F1.