One of the most exciting Formula 1 seasons in recent memory has come to pass and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continued to deliver controversy at the start of the race with the end of the race offering litigation and protests despite a last-lap pass by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for the win and the 2021 world championship.
The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton had a great start, took the lead over Max Verstappen who dove down the inside of Lewis, who ran wide in turn one cutting the corner, allowing him to re-take the lead. That was the first controversy and the race stewards said no “investigation needed” as Lewis gave back the advantage he had gained from cutting the corner. Obviously Red Bull didn’t agree but they had little else to do but put their heads down as the race went on.
Lewis, in a dominant Mercedes, controlled the pace for most of the race but Max kept his Red Bull within Lewis’s pit window meaning Mercedes needed to play a more conservative strategy (being in the lead) and opt for track position knowing that if they would lose that track position, anything could happen with safety cars, red flags or even altercations between Max and Lewis which would give Verstappen the edge as he had more race wins under his belt.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez did a masterful job of holding up Lewis to give Max a chance to close the gap but even after that herculean effort, with Max on equal tires as Lewis, the Red Bull couldn’t overhaul the pace of the Mercedes. It was going to take some incident, such as a safety car, to help them get back within striking range with a chance.
Red Bull got that chance when Nicholas Latifi (in a Mercedes-powered car, so hold your Timo Glock-style conspiracy theories) crashed bringing out the full Safety Car. Mercedes, with Max still in their pit window, chose to keep Lewis out again for track position but having nothing to lose, Red Bull boxed Max for fresh Soft compound tires.
As there were only a few laps remaining, race director Michael Masi, originally stated that the lapped cars would not be released to move them out of the way but as the crash was cleared quickly, it seems that the race director chose to move the cars between Max and Lewis out of the way in order to have a square fight for the last lap. For Mercedes fans, this was anything but a square fight because Max and Red Bull had gambled and stopped for fresh soft compound tires meaning he would be much quicker than Lewis on the restart.
And so he was. Max passed Lewis on the final lap of the race to take the win and the 2021 F1 world championship. Obviously Mercedes were stunned, having controlled the entire race in a dominant car, and the protests, litigation and meetings with the FIA immediately began but the race stewards have dismissed their protests leaving Max Verstappen the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Champion.
There’s an irony in this finale as it highlights the festering notion, that quite honestly we’ve been talking about since 2007, that the FIA and it’s lack of consistency creates differing results from race-to-race and as time has progressed, the teams have become more litigious over the years. As race stewards have tried to adjudicate the outcomes of races based on results of an action and not the action itself and teams have become accustomed to lobbying the new race director, it is a breeding ground for hints, innuendos and allegations to fester.
A win for Red Bull and Max Verstappen who claimed the race win and the 2021 Driver’s Championship. If you park the entire race re-start incident, the fact is they had a car that needed an advantage. Their hand was played during qualifying with Soft compounds but then they had to gamble twice during the race on an aggressive strategy to get them on fresher tires than Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. It was their only chance and yet they would still need some luck which they got in the form of Nicholas Latifi and a Safety Car. You have to be in it to win it and Max drove a fantastic race staying within Lewis’s pit window and forcing Mercedes to play it safe but it was the luck of a safety car and the manner in which the race re-started that gave him the chance he needed to get his slower Red Bull, on fresh tires, ahead of Lewis’s faster Mercedes on worn tires.
A win for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez who de-throned Valtteri Bottas as the best teammate and tail-gunner by putting on a masterclass on how to hassle and hold up your teammate’s nemesis. It was a great fight to hold Lewis Hamilton off with fresher tires and made a huge difference in the race by allowing Max to close a significant gap and keep himself inside Merc’s pit window which allowed Max’s race strategy gambles to work.
A big win for Carlos Sainz who, unlike his teammate Charles Leclerc, stayed out for track position and it worked for him getting Ferrari on the podium and into third in the constructor’s championship and it moved Carlos into 5th in the driver’s championship.
A big win for Yuki Tsunoda who finished ahead of his teammate, Pierre Gasly, to give Alpha Tauri 4th and 5th. It’s particularly good for Pierre who struggled all weekend with his car.
A win for Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon who got both cars into the top 10 with an 8th and 9th place finish respectively. The points haul and late-season performance allowed Alpine to jump Alpha Tauri for 5th in the constructor’s championship.
A win for Mercedes who have won their 8th straight Constructor’s Championship which is an incredible achievement by anyone’s measure! It may be bitter sweet given the way the race ended but it is where all the money comes from and that’s a huge victory for them and to be honest, more representative of all the men and women who work tirelessly at that team to win.
It’s hard to give Mercedes a “fail” as Lewis seemed firmly in control but with a critic’s hindsight, you had a team who was playing conservative and favoring track position, despite their car’s clear pace advantage and in the hands of a 7-time champ, while the challenger threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at them and that aggressive strategy, juxtaposed with Merc’s safe strategy, put Max in a position to win. One could argue that had they ceded track position, on fresher tires, Lewis and his Merc would have been more than capable of passing Max but then passing Max isn’t an easy thing to do so you can see their dilemma. Valtteri was no help as he drove like a driver competing in his last race for a team.
A fail for Charles Leclerc who boxed during the VSC and while that helped some, it worked against him and then he had a moment where he ran wide as Max re-entered the track after his pit stop. With Sainz on the podium, you have to think that perhaps Charles left some points on the table but it doesn’t matter, Ferrari were able to overhaul McLaren as best-of-the-rest.
A fail for Alfa Romeo who ended Kimi Raikkonen’s final race in F1 with a brake issue and then Antonio Giovinazzi stopped too prompting a virtual safety car.
A fail for Williams as George Russel stopped with loss of power and Nicholas Latifi hit the wall bringing out the safety car that overturn the apple cart.
I’ve been critical of some of the races that Derrick Warrick has officiated on and some of his decisions as well as his comments in the press over the years. I am sure Derrick is a wonderful guy, I just haven’t agreed with a few of his race steward decisions. Like Martin Brundle, I think he and his team got the call wrong on the first lap and Lewis should have given that spot back. Having said that, given the pace of the Mercedes, I am not sure it would have changed the end result but you never know. With clean air and the lead, your options change and Red Bull could have used that flexibility for sure.
I’m not sure how I feel about the team bosses lobbying Michael Masi during the race such as Toto Wolff’s call for no safety car for Bio’s stranded car or Jonathan’s grousing about the no-call on lap 1 but it may make for good entertainment. Still, imagine if you were Michael and had to listen to that kind of petitioning all race long? Not an easy job.
It’s a shame that Honda is leaving the sport because Max and Red Bull just gave them their first Driver’s Championship since Senna in 91 with his hat trick of pole, win and fastest lap.
Pirelli Key Moments:
- Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won his first world title in dramatic fashion at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with three pit stops: taking the lead on the final lap after stopping for P Zero Red soft tyres during a safety car.
- Verstappen started from pole on the soft compound but was passed by his title rival Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) who began the race on the P Zero Yellow medium. Verstappen was the first of the two to make his stop from soft to P Zero White hard on lap 13, followed one lap later by Hamilton, who switched from medium to hard. Verstappen then made a second stop for hard tyres under a virtual safety car on lap 36 before his third and final stop for softs under a full safety car with five laps to go.
- There was a wide variety of strategies seen throughout the race, with five different run plans in the top five at the finish, influenced also by the safety car periods.
- Eight drivers – including the polesitter – began the race on the soft compound, with nine on the medium and just two (AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Alpine driver Fernando Alonso) on the hard tyre: both of whom finished in the points.
- The race got underway in warm and dry conditions with 28 degrees centigrade asphalt and 25 degrees ambient: similar to qualifying and staying consistent to the finish.
Abu Dhabi GP Results:
|Pos||Name||Car||Laps||Laps Led||Total Time||Fastest Lap||Pitstops||Pts|
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-Honda||58||1||1h30m17.345s||1m26.103s||3||26|
|3||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Ferrari||58||0||+5.173s||1m27.618s||1||15|
|11||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin-Mercedes||58||0||+1m07.527s||1m28.303s||1||0|
|12||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren-Mercedes||57||0||+1 lap||1m28.723s||2||0|
|13||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin-Mercedes||57||0||+1 lap||1m28.567s||2||0|
|14||Mick Schumacher||Haas-Ferrari||57||0||+1 lap||1m29.457s||2||0|
|Sergio Pérez||Red Bull-Honda||55||6||DNF||1m26.419s||3||0|
|Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||33||0||DNF||1m29.442s||1||0|
|Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||25||0||DNF||1m29.698s||1||0|