World champion Lewis Hamilton has dominated the final race of the 2019 season in Abu Dhabi to take his 11th win of the season.
Hamilton was peerless in the desert, acing his start from pole and pulling away from the field by almost a second a lap early in the race to put himself well clear of undercut range from his rival behind.
But competition for first place never materialised. Red Bull Racing and Ferrari squabbled only for the balance of the podium places, allowing Hamilton to restrain himself in the lead and massage his way to the finish.
He led every lap and set the fastest lap of the race, which combined with his pole position and race win earnt him a sixth career ‘grand slam’, putting him just two behind record holder Jim Clark.
Reflecting on his 84th career victory, Hamilton praised his team’s perseverance for delivering him an unbeatable car in Abu Dhabi.
“Who would’ve thought at the end of the year we’d have this strength in the race?” he said. “I’m proud definitely but just super grateful for this incredible team, to all at Mercedes who’ve continued to push this year.”
Max Verstappen started second on the grid but was jumped on the first lap by Charles Leclerc, and the pair engaged in two different strategies in their battle for the final podium places.
Leclerc tried to use his track position to dictate strategy to Verstappen, stopping early on lap 12 to switch to the hard tyre for a long final stint.
But Verstappen felt his medium-compound tyres had more to give, and Red Bull Racing delayed his stop until lap 25. He rejoined the race five seconds behind Leclerc, but with far fresher rubber he was able to force his way past on lap 32.
Leclerc attempted to fight back at the end of the second DRS zones and the two bumped wheels, but the Verstappen was too quick, and once free from the Ferrari’s pressure was able to build a buffer to secure second place.
“I think our pace was quite decent,” Verstappen said. “Mercedes and Lewis today were too quick.”
But Leclerc’s race wasn’t yet over. Valtteri Bottas, starting a penalised 20th for an unscheduled engine change, was on a late charge, having made his sole pit stop on lap 30 and aiming for the podium.
Ferrari stopped Leclerc pre-emptively on lap 38, dropping him to less than two seconds ahead of the Finn, and though his soft tyres enabled him to quickly build a buffer, the delicate rubber began expiring in the final 10 laps, allowing Bottas to close onto his gearbox in the final two laps.
A move never eventuated, however, allowing Leclerc to take third, thereby guaranteeing him fourth on the championship table ahead of teammate Vettel.
“I’m extremely happy about his year,” he said. “A realisation of a dream since childhood, to be now with this team is unbelievable.
“Now it’s up to me to work to get better and hopefully give them the success they deserve.”
But Leclerc’s third place remained unofficial at the flag, his car having attracted the attention of FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer before the race for allegedly breaching a technical directive.
Bauer reported a “significant difference” in the volume of fuel measured in Leclerc’s tank compared to the amount declared by the team, and the stewards were set to open an investigation in the hours after the race.
The result of the inquiry could decide whether Bottas’s strong recovery from the back of the grid ends with a powerful podium or a nonetheless commendable fourth place. The Finn was quick to make up positions early, rising five places on the first lap alone and making steady progress thereafter, and was in podium contention right to the final laps of the race.
Behind him Vettel beat Thai driver Alex Albon to fifth with a pass on the penultimate lap. The German made a second stop for new tyres on lap 38, making Albon easy meat late on his hard tyres worn from his one-stop strategy.
The lower points-paying places were decided in a frenetic final 15 laps as the private battle between McLaren and Renault was disrupted by some perfect strategic execution by Racing Point and Toro Rosso.
Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat started 10th and 13th on the medium and hard tyres respectively but ran mammoth opening stints to rise through the mess of the midfield before making their stops.
Perez stopped for new hards on lap 37 and Kvyat for new mediums on lap 40, and though both momentarily dropped to 12th, they made rapid progress back into the top 10 in pursuit of seventh place, the head of the midfield, then occupied by Lando Norris.
The battle went down to the wire, with Perez making a move stick on the final lap, demoting Norris to eighth, with Kvyat just 1.2 seconds further back n ninth.
Carlos Sainz defended hard from Daniel Ricciardo to hold 10th place, succeeding by just 0.9 seconds at the flag to earn the final point of the race, thereby securing him sixth place in the drivers standings ahead of Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon.