Max Verstappen closed the 2020 Formula 1 season with an effortless victory for Red Bull Racing over Mercedes at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Dutchman took his first pole in more than a year and deftly converted P1 on the grid into a comfortable three-second lead in the first 10 laps.
Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were powerless in pursuit, the Mercedes duo holding their starting positions off the line but unable to make inroads on the Red Bull Racing car as it gradually escaped into the distance.
The lead battle’s only flashpoint came on Lap 10, when Sergio Perez’s engine cruelly failed him in what could be the Mexican’s last grand prix. His stricken Racing Point stopped on track, necessitating a virtual safety car — shortly afterwards converted to a full safety car — that pulled most drivers into the pit for an early stop in what was almost exclusively a one-stop race.
The leading three drivers covered each other, switching from medium tires to hards, and when Verstappen aced the Lap 13 restart his race was as good as won. The Dutchman eked out more and more time on the Mercedes cars until he took the final checkered flag of the season with a 16s lead.
“It was a really enjoyable race out there,” Verstappen said. “We did everything basically all right.
“I saw that they were dropping off behind me, so I could take it a bit easier… overall it was just a very strong race for the team.”
The uncharacteristically lackluster Mercedes showing was in part owed to team concern over recent undiagnosed MGU-K problems that forced both Bottas and Hamilton to qualify and race with less power.
Bottas conceded he was surprised his car was so ineffectual against the RB16 but took solace from the fact he did all he could to try to close the gap.
“We thought race pace would be pretty identical, but they could really control the race,” he said. “I was trying everything I could but I couldn’t keep up with him.
“I feel like it was a solid race from my side, no mistakes, and I felt like I couldn’t get more out of the package today.”
Hamilton was sanguine in defeat, admitting he was happy to make it to the end of the race after recovering from COVID-19 just in time to enter the grand prix.
“You can’t win them all,” he said. “Considering the past couple of weeks I’ve had, I’m really generally happy with the weekend.
“It’s obviously not 100 percent, not as good as perhaps I would’ve liked, but congratulations to Max.”
Alex Albon finished a solid but unspectacular fourth in his final contracted race for Red Bull Racing. The Thai spent the first six laps stuck in fifth behind Lando Norris, but the safety car allowed him to close onto the back of the podium battle and eventually mount a late challenge on Hamilton’s third place, though he never got close enough to make a move.
McLaren teammates Norris and Carlos Sainz scored 18 points for fifth and sixth to deliver the team third in the constructors standings.
The British squad started 10 points in arrears to Racing Point, but Perez’s engine failure and Lance Stroll’s uninspired run to 10th enabled McLaren to claim its highest championship finish since 2012.
Sainz remains under post-race investigation for driving too slowly in the pit lane during the virtual safety car, allegedly to ensure he lost no time behind Norris when the pair had their stops double stacked, but only a four-place drop or 38s time penalty would cost McLaren its position in the standings.
Daniel Ricciardo finished his Renault career with seventh, the Australian having opted against stopping during the virtual safety car to instead run until Lap 39 before making his tire change, gaining him four places on his starting position and a point for fastest lap.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly finished a lonely eighth, 16s behind Ricciardo and 11s ahead of Esteban Ocon, who demoted Lance Stroll to 10th on the final lap.
Daniil Kvyat finished 11th in what is likely to be his final Formula 1 grand prix, with Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen in 12th.
Charles Leclerc led home outbound Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel in 13th and 14th after a failed strategy gamble on not stopping during the virtual safety car failed to pay off.
George Russell finished 15th for Williams ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and teammate Nicholas Latifi.
Kevin Magnussen finished 18th in his final Formula 1 race ahead of stand-in teammate Pietro Fittipaldi.