Lewis Hamilton beaten to Abu Dhabi GP victory by Valtteri Bottas

Formula 1


Valtteri Bottas held off team-mate Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes cruised to a dominant one-two in the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who won his fourth world championship two races before the end of the season, appeared quicker in the second part of the race.

But he could not get quite close enough to challenge for the lead in a drab and largely action-free finale.

Sebastian Vettel was outclassed in third place to underline the anticlimatic way in which Ferrari have ended a season that had for so long promised so much.

It was not a classic race; positions not changing much after the cars left their grid positions – with Hamilton even saying to team-mates and rivals before the podium ceremony: “They have to change this track”

A Bottas masterclass

Hamilton and Vettel had both wanted to end this season with a victory, for different reasons – Hamilton to prevent his former title rival from winning the last two races; Vettel to give Ferrari a boost going into the off-season.

But Bottas, who has struggled for form in the second half of the season, drove a composed and impressive weekend, beating Hamilton to pole and controlling the race from the front.

Unlike in Brazil last time out, where he lost the race at the first corner after being passed by Vettel, Bottas made a strong start and imposed himself on the race from the first lap.

Bottas had a 2.5-second lead when he made his only pit stop on lap 20. Hamilton stayed out for three further laps in an attempt to try to establish enough of a lead to rejoin the track in front but did not have enough pace.

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He set a fastest lap on lap 21, but Bottas lowered that mark on lap 24, suggesting that had Hamilton extended his run, he would have lost ground rather than gained it.

Hamilton reduced Bottas’ lead by 0.7 seconds on his first flying lap on his new tyres, getting to 1.1secs behind his team-mate, where he stayed for four laps before running wide at Turn 17 and losing a little time.

For the rest of the race, Hamilton was within 1.5secs of Bottas but the stalemate remained to the end.

A lock-up by Bottas at the Turn Five hairpin on lap 49 allowed Hamilton to close up, but again he lost ground in the twisty final sector as his car’s aerodynamics were disrupted by the dirty air behind the leading Mercedes.

Ferrari outclassed

Vettel had warned after qualifying that Mercedes would be tough to beat, and so it proved in a chastening race for Ferrari.

The German’s victory in Brazil had boosted the Italian team after a dispiriting period in September and October when what had been a close title fight between Hamilton and Vettel was effectively handed to the Briton with a series of driver and team mistakes.

But Mercedes’ pace suggested that had the fight gone to the final race, Hamilton would have had more than enough to beat Vettel anyway.

Vettel was, however, affected by Ferrari’s decision to turn down his engine to ensure that he secured second place in the championship, which Bottas would have snatched had the Finn won the race and Vettel not finished.

Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen followed him across the line, nearly 20 seconds behind, and just ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

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Reanult get a boost

The season ended on a high for Renault.

Nico Hulkenberg’s strong sixth place, despite a five-second penalty for overtaking Force India’s Sergio Perez off the track on lap one, moved them ahead of Toro Rosso for sixth place in the constructors’ championship, a boost of about £5m in prize money.

Perez and team-mate Esteban Ocon followed the German home, with Fernando Alonso winning a battle with Williams’ Felipe Massa, in the Brazilian’s final grand prix, by passing him shortly after their pit stops to take ninth for McLaren in the final race of their ill-fated engine partnership with Honda.

McLaren will be using Renault engines in 2018 and have hopes of a boost in competitiveness and making the top three teams a top four.

Driver of the day

There was not much to celebrate about a dispiriting final race, and what may or may not have been a genuine fight between the Mercedes drivers. But Bottas did appear to have Hamilton covered, so he takes it. An honourable mention for Alonso, for passing Massa’s Williams despite its power advantage, and Hulkenberg for ending on a high a very strong season by the German for Renault

What happens next?

F1 goes into competitive hibernation for just over three months, while the teams work hard on their new cars. The new season starts in Australia on 26 March, 2018.

What they said

“It is a really important win for me,” said Bottas. “Pretty difficult start to the second half of the year, working hard into all the issues and getting better and better. This weekend I couldn’t be happier to end the season like this.

“I was really managing the pace and that was a nice feeling. I had one lock-up when I was approaching one of the lapped cars but otherwise no issues. The last five laps I started to go a bit quicker and could extend the gap.”

“Valtteri did an amazing job to hold me off,” Hamilton said. “I gave it everything but it’s very hard to overtake here.”

“I flat-spotted the first set of tyres and after four or five laps I couldn’t go any faster,” said Vettel.

“The second stint I really got into the rhythm but not good enough to match those two guys. Congrats to Valtteri and to Lewis for the season. He deserved the championship this year. I hate to say it, but he was the better man.”

Pre-race entertainment includes a fly-past…
…And the celebrities come out to the desert for the occasion – in this case singer Ella Eyre
‘Is that a plumbers or something?’ Marcus Mumford from the band Mumford & Sons came along to watch the race unfold
Hamilton wore a gold helmet to celebrate his fourth world title, which makes him the joint third most decorated F1 driver of all time
As if the drivers’ and constructors’ title wasn’t enough, Mercedes picked up the fastest pit stop of the season award
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