21st Round of F1 World Championship 2019: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Grand Prix

Dec 11th, 2019

21st Round of F1 World Championship 2019:  Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton Cruises to a Grand Slam Win

F1 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was held at Yas Marina circuit built on a man-made island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This race was the 11th running of the Abu Dhabi race since 2009 when the circuit held the first-ever day and night race in the history of Formula 1. Mercedes won the last five Abu Dhabi Grands Prix with Lewis Hamilton winning four and Nico Rosberg taking the maiden win in 2015. There was again no stopping the champ Hamilton as he stormed to his first pole position since Germany with a new track record. He dominated the race by leading every single lap, fastest lap, and registered his 6th Grand Slam win, now only two behind Jim Clark’s record of eight Grand Slams. Verstappen finished the season with a superb 2nd, and Charles Leclerc finished the season with 3rd place.

Thursday Pre-Race Preparations 

Williams announced the promotion of their reserve driver Nicholas Latifi (Canada) to a fulltime race seat in place of Robert Kubica who will leave the team after just one season. Latifi finished his F2 campaign in the second position, behind the champion Nick De Vries. The announcement of Latifi means the 2020 F1 grid is now complete. Nico Hulkenberg also started for the last time in his F1 career, since losing the seat to Esteban Ocon after the summer break.

Valterri Bottas took additional PU (Power Unit) components and started the last race of the season in the last place.

Weather is hardly a concern in this part of the world, and this year again, the weather outlook was for dry and pleasant afternoons.

The most important battles of the Abu Dhabi GP included the qualifying battle between the two McLaren drivers, both tied on 10-10 in qualifying trim. Then there were Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon fighting for the 6th place in the drivers’ championship.

Friday Practice

Valterri Bottas led both the Friday sessions comfortably, primarily due to the new PU package, while the rest of the drivers used old engines. On paper, the Ferraris should have performed better with two long straights in sector two, but they seemed to lose too much time in the third sector which is more technical in nature. The Red Bulls were ranked 3rd on the short-run pace chart. The Haas races were surprisingly the best of the rest ahead of Racing Point, Toro Rosso and McLaren. Renault seemed to lose some speed compared to midfield rivals, Alfa Romeo on 9th and Williams 10th.

The long-run pace did not show any anomaly, with Mercedes well ahead of Ferrari and Red Bull. The Red Bulls tended to be more competitive come Sunday due to superior chassis and better tyre management. The midfield pack was tightly bunched up the most it has been all year. Racing Point led the pack, lapping some 1.5 sec/lap slower than the Silver Arrows. Haas, McLaren and Toro Rosso equaled on race pace, but a tenth behind Racing Point. Renault was further behind by 0.1 sec/lap, Alfa 9th and Williams 10th in the pecking order.

Saturday Practice

Saturday practice took place in sunny and warm conditions, so lap times were unrepresentative of the true pecking order as the teams set the car up for cold conditions. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen edged the two Mercedes drivers by less than a tenth. The rest of the grid showed no significant changes.

Qualifying

Q1 started perfectly for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton showing blistering pace setting the only time in the 1 min 35 bracket, well ahead of his teammate. The drivers eliminated in the first qualifying were the usual suspects – the two Williams, both Alfa Romeos, and the Haas of Romain Grosjean.

The second qualifying saw medium tyre strategy by the top three teams so that they could go long in the race and control the race strategy. Sebastian Vettel followed a deviated path and went for soft tyre run, starting the race on a red-side-walled tyre. The sole remaining Haas of Kevin Magnussen was knocked out along with the pair of Toro Rosso and the Racing Point drivers. Charles Leclerc led the session from Lewis Hamilton.

The final qualifying session of the last race of the season saw the reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton taking provisional pole position after a mighty final sector posting a time of 1:34.828 and finished three tenths ahead of everybody. The last runs in Q3 summed up Ferrari's season with Leclerc failing to reach the chequered flag in time, so he had to settle for 4th. Hamilton was the only one to improve his time and grabbed the 88th pole position of his career with a new track record of 1:34.779. Bottas finished P2 but will start last due to a penalty. Verstappen qualified a brilliant 3rd, Leclerc 4th, Sebastian Vettel 5th and Alexander Albon 6th. Lando Norris won the McLaren qualifying battle by taking 7th position followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz 9th and Nico Hulkenberg 10th.

Sunday Race

Ferrari continued their operational-level mistakes by putting more fuel in Leclerc’s car but notified different fuel amount to FIA resulting in a pending investigation after the race. Lewis Hamilton just needed a straightforward race to continue Mercedes’s 100% win record at Yas Marina since the start of the hybrid era. For one last time, five red lights went out, and Hamilton made a perfect start and reached the first corner first. Behind, Leclerc out-dragged Verstappen into Turn 8 and took second place. Bottas made a lightning-fast start and was up to P16 by Turn 10. The midfield pack got away safely with no big drama.

DRS (drag reduction system) was not available for the first 18 laps, hampering many drivers’ progress up the field. On Lap 13, Ferrari threw the dice and double-stacked Leclerc and Vettel, Charles went away precisely, but Vettel had a very slow stop of 6.9 sec dropping him down to 7th. Max pitted on Lap 26 and Hamilton on Lap 27, both emerging on hard tyres and opting for a one-stop strategy. Max regained his 2nd place from Charles on Lap 32 and disappeared into the distance.

After pitting early, the Ferraris struggled to make any progress and hence made another double pit stop in Lap 39, but working out perfectly this time. The idea was to grab second from Max, but Ferrari never had big enough time delta to overtake Verstappen. Lewis Hamilton took the 11th victory of the season and scored most points in a single season by any driver. Max 2nd and Leclerc 3rd, Bottas should have finished on the podium from last on the grid had there been no DRS problem for 18 laps. In the end, he finished 4th ahead of Vettel. 

The midfield battles went right till the last lap with Carlos Sainz (McLaren) overtaking Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) on the final lap to finish 10th and take that all-important 1 point to finish 6th in the drivers’ championship. Sergio Perez overtook Lando Norris on the last lap in Turn 10 to finish the best of the rest after the top three teams.

We take this moment to quote the 6th Grand Slam F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton at how proud and grateful he felt about their win.

“Honestly I’m proud, definitely, but just super grateful for this incredible team, to all at Mercedes who have continued to push this year. Who would have thought at the end of the year we’d have this strength in the race. Even though we had the championship won, I just really wanted to keep my head down and try to see if we could learn and if we could extend and extract more from this beautiful car, it’s a piece of art. Thank you for watching, thank you for supporting. I feel so happy” – Lewis Hamilton

To all Grand Prix folks, this round marks the end of the 2019 F1 season. Now all teams head back to the factories for the design and preparation of the 2020 cars which will be displayed in February 2020 before the winter. Testing begins in Circuit de Catalunya Barcelona, Spain. Till the next season!

-Farruk Kiani