Lewis Hamilton has taken his eleventh victory of the year at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last race of 2018. Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen took second and third respectively at the Yas Marina Circuit. The event has been marked by Fernando Alonso’s farewell. The Spaniard, who has finished in the eleventh position, has completed a lap of honour escorted by the British five-time champion and his German rival from Ferrari.
A beautiful gesture from the current most successful adversaries. His friend Carlos Sainz, delighted fans with an epic performance which landed him the sixth position.
There were more farewells at the United Arab Emirates. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) has been fourth and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) has retired after suffering an electrical problem.
Hulkenberg’s chilling accident
At the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton held onto his first position, as did his teammate Valtteri Bottas and the two Ferraris of Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
After a few meters, however, Nico Hulkenberg suffered a horrible accident when his Renault made contact with the Haas of Romain Grosjean. Hulkenberg landed the wrong side up against the safety barriers as flames appeared in the rear of the car.
Despite the dramatic moments that followed, the track marshals rescued the driver swiftly and unharmed. This incident triggered a safety car that remained until the fifth lap at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
‘Mad’ Max vs Ocon, again…
An electric duel between two ‘old friends’ brought back some very welcomed action to the asphalt. ‘Mad’ Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon started the fight for the seventh position as if they were on the last lap. After several mutual overtaking and a slight contact from the Dutch driver, the latter imposed himself.
Six laps on and everything remained more or less as it had started in the front line of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Mercedes #44 was in command, followed by Bottas, Vettel, an extraordinary Charles Leclerc and the two ‘blue sharks’.
Hamilton’s pit stop
The next lap brought one of the key moments of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Finnish Ferrari had had enough and caused a Virtual Safety Car. Mercedes took advantage of the situation for Lewis Hamilton to change tires.
This seemed a risky and hasty tactic, as the Briton came out fifth and behind Bottas, Vettel and both Red Bulls. Hamilton himself questioned the move by radio to his engineers.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz had by then climbed from the eleventh to the ninth position and Fernando Alonso went up four places to take eleven at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Bottas slows the race down
After the first 14 laps, Bottas started to slow the head of the race down in order to help Hamilton catch up. This made all distances between rivals to narrow. In sum, it was a textbook ‘plug strategy’.
The driver from Nastola made his pit stop on lap seventeen of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Hamilton was by then in the third position followed by Ricciardo’s and Mad Max’ Red Bulls. Meanwhile, Sainz climbed to the eighth place.
Halfway through the race, Magnus Ericsson had to say goodbye to Sauber after suffering a problem with his car. Alonso was ninth, but this was only a mirage as he had yet to stop for the first time which he did in lap twenty-eight. He resumed the race in the last position at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Meanwhile at the top, not much was happening as leaders held on to their positions. This tranquillity was broken six laps later by Ricciardo’s pit-stop. The Australian gave in his lead to Hamilton, ahead of Bottas, Vettel, and Verstappen. The ‘Aussie‘ fell to fifth place, ahead of Carlos, who was already sixth!
Bottas loses 3 positions and the podium
The German driver from Maranello sharpened its claws and came dangerously close to the domains of the Fin. He was preparing an attack that he unleashed on the thirty-fifth lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Valtteri, once again, gave in to the pressure of the battle and was overtaken by Vettel. But there was more bad news on the way for the Nordic driver. Only a lap later he committed another error, this time against Verstappen. To top it all off Ricciardo also passed him on the following lap. The Mercedes #77 had lost three positions in as many laps and was now in fifth place.
Bottas was suffering from tire degradation and he went to boxes on lap 41. At that time the podium places were occupied by Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen. He joined back again in the fifth position between Ricciardo and Sainz.
At that point there would be no more position changes at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was reached. Esteban Ocon, however, had to retire before the end after his Racing Point Force India failed him with nine laps to go.
Farewell to Alonso
This is how Lewis Hamilton scored his eleventh victory of the year and seventy-third of his F1 career. Vettel had to resign himself to be second just as he is in the championship.
Verstappen closed the podium, his consecutive fifth after a total of eleven podiums. The Dutchman also gets the third position of the championship. Sainz managed a fantastic sixth position in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Awesome!
One of the most moving moments of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, however, came after the checkered flag had been lowered. Alonso, who had finished eleven, completed a lap of honour escorted by Vettel and Hamilton in a sign of respect for the leaving champion.
A great way to say goodbye for an extraordinary champion who has marked an era in Formula 1. During seventeen seasons, he has taken part in 312 Grand Prix, won two World titles, 32 victories, 97 podiums, 22 poles and 23 fastest laps.
The Spaniard has also been part of the Minardi, Renault, McLaren and Ferrari teams. Above his sporting achievements remains his whole legacy and footprint as an icon of the sport. ‘El Nano’ ignited the passion for Formula 1 in Spain. We will miss you, Fernando.
Main image: Twitter.