Both the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, the latter visibly tempered after a debilitating bout of COVID-19, completed the podium at the Yas Marina Circuit. The inability of the Black Arrows to match the pace of the Dutch predator was unexpected, to say the least.
It is hard to remember such a poor performance by the Mercedes cars, particularly of Hamilton’s. There was no trace of his usual combative spirit. The skill and determination of the English star were visibly diminished all the way through from the get go to the checkered flag.
This result puts an end to Hamilton and Mercedes’ six-year long winning streak at Yas Marina, with no other team taking the glory there since 2014. Red Bull’s Alex Albon, and McLaren‘s Lando Norris, completed the top five with Norris teammate, Carlos Sainz, taking sixth. As for the individual standings, Bottas is runner-up for the second consecutive year, but once again leaves a trail of doubt and disappointment regarding his performance at the wheel of the best car in the grid.
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 14, 2020
Max leads from the start
Max Verstappen defended his pole position tooth and nail from the start before the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. Actually, the whole of the starting configuration from first to eighth places remained unchanged after the start.
The relentless rhythm set by the Dutchman allowed him to open up more than a second with the Black Arrows in just a couple of turns. The Mercedes cars were playing it conservatively, preserving their compounds right until lap nine when they were given the green flag to attack.
Unfortunately for them, they didn’t seem to be able to make a dent on Verstappen’s 3.2-second advantage. A virtual safety car was brought out a lap later following Perez’s abandonment, and most teams took the chance of a ‘free’ pit stop.
With normal racing conditions resuming on the eleventh lap and after their respective tyre changes, Verstappen, Bottas and Hamilton re-joined the tarmac in exactly the same positions, Max having reduced his advantage to 1.5 seconds despite his sequence of fastest laps. Meanwhile, Hamilton was simply unable to pick up the pace and get close to Bottas.
Max is unstoppable
By the halfway point of the Abu Dahbi GP, Max had increased his lead to eight seconds over Bottas with Hamilton 3 seconds further back. Albon was running fourth and Ricciardo, who had had no NO PIT STOP, was fifth. The McLarens were behind in sixth and seventh followed by Gasly, Vettel and Stroll, tenth.
Max’ driving was spectacular. He took a new fastest lap on the 36 and he did so without straining his compounds, a critical skill, particularly on a track like Yas Marina.
The only question was whether these would hold until the end of the race although the Dutchman was confident things were running smoothly, as he reported on the radio. He even asked the team to lower the revolutions of his engine in order to play it safer, something that they refused to do.
From the wall, they even informed him that his tires had cooled down from being too conservative. Despite this ‘slowness’, he was 8.7 seconds ahead of Bottas and 11 over Hamilton. What was happening? It seemed as if the Mercedes had given up, powerless before the mighty RB16.
Then nothing changed much until the end of the race at Abu Dahbi GP. This was the second victory of the year and tenth of his career for Verstappen. Despite being the reigning champions and Bottas and Hamilton completing the podium, this was a very flat end of season for Mercedes. Still, Verstappen and Gasly remain the only ones to have managed to steal a victory from the Germans during 2020.
Images of Abu Dhabi GP: Red Bull Racing.