YAS ISLAND, Abu Dhabi – The initial start was ultimately the deciding factor in Sunday’s season-ending Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and Max Verstappen aced that test with a perfect score.
Verstappen got off the starting line ahead of the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton and headed them for all 55 laps at Yas Marina Circuit, cruising to his second Formula One win of the year.
The Dutchman drove a flawless race, leading for the first time in his F-1 career and setting the fastest lap of the race in the process en route to a 15.976-second victory, his 10th in F-1 competition.
By entering the double-digit win category, Verstappen also moved into a tie for 30th on the all-time grand prix winners list with Ronnie Peterson, Jody Scheckter, James Hunt and Gerhard Berger.
“We call that a simply lovely race,” Verstappen radioed to his crew after crossing the finish line.
“That was really enjoyable,” he added in parc ferme. “Yesterday wasn’t as much, but today we had a great start, and from there on it was just about looking after the tires. The car was balanced really well and I really enjoyed that race. We did basically everything all right.
“Starting up front, you can control the pace a bit more and it makes your life a bit easier.”
Verstappen’s drive may have seemed effortless, but his radio communications suggested otherwise down the home stretch of the grand prix.
“I saw that they (the two Mercedes) were dropping off a bit behind me, so I was able to take it a bit easier (in spite of a tire vibration),” Verstappen noted. “I had to go through a bit of traffic … but overall, it was a very strong race for the team, I think.”
The lone issue of the event came on lap 10, when recent Sakhir Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez stalled on track and ultimately retired from the race with a mechanical issue in his Racing Point.
It marked a heartbreaking end to Perez’s time with the team, and potentially his time in F-1, considering the 191-time grand prix starter doesn’t yet have a seat on the grid for next season.
Perez’s issue forced a virtual safety car period, which turned into a full safety car one lap later, just after the frontrunners all made their lone pit stops of the race for hard compound Pirelli tires.
That was the only blemish on an otherwise clean race, with Bottas holding off Hamilton for runner-up honors and in doing so, securing second in the driver’s championship over Verstappen.
The second Red Bull of Alex Albon finished a distant fourth, trailed by the McLaren pair of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, who combined to secure third in the constructor’s championship for McLaren.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo crossed seventh, but ran fifth until a late pit stop for tires.
As a consolation prize, however, Ricciardo did set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap – earning a bonus point in the final standings and preventing Verstappen from becoming the youngest driver in F-1 history to earn a grand slam victory in the process.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Renault’s Esteban Ocon and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll filled out the points-scoring positions inside the top 10.
Sebastian Vettel’s last race with Ferrari was a dismal one, as the four-time F-1 champion was a lowly 14th. The same could be said for the outgoing Kevin Magnussen at Haas F1 Team, who finished 18th.
A post-race investigation was launched into Carlos Sainz, who was “driving unnecessarily slowly entering the pit lane” according to the F-1 world feed broadcast during the virtual safety car pit stops at lap 10.
Any time penalty, however, is not anticipated to change the final constructor’s championship standings.
Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton, Alex Albon, Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat, Kimi Räikkönen, Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, George Russell, Antonio Giovinazzi, Nicholas Latifi, Kevin Magnussen, Pietro Fittipaldi, Sergio Perez.