Image: Wikimedia Commons / Michał Obrochta
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Michał Obrochta

Abu Dhabi GP: Verstappen wins as post-season excitement arrives

Max Verstappen wrapped up the 2021 F1 season with a commanding win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In an underwhelming race, the Red Bull driver held off Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in second and third respectively to claim his second win of the season.

Despite his victory, Verstappen didn’t pick up enough points to overtake Bottas for second in the drivers’ championship, although his strong showing (coupled with teammate Alex Albon in fourth) reinforced Red Bull’s strong second in the constructors’ championship. A fifth and sixth place finish by Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz respectively gave McLaren enough points to surpass Racing Point and finish third.

Verstappen’s pole position was unexpected, but he held the lead throughout. A safety car was called after 10 laps when Sergio Perez retired, forcing most of the teams to make a pitstop, and the rest of the race was governed by tyre conservation. The Mercedes’ lack of pace was a surprise, but it didn’t affect the race to any real extent, making this course a bit of a procession. The fastest lap went to Daniel Ricciardo, who will be moving to McLaren next season.

I will enjoy the podium and then will enjoy going home

– Max Verstappen

After the race, Verstappen said: “It was really enjoyable yesterday and today had a good start and from there I could look after the tyres but the car had a really good balance. It was really enjoyable out there today. We did everything alright. I saw [Mercedes] were dropping off behind so I could take it a bit easier overall. It was a very strong race for the team. I enjoyed that I won. I will enjoy the podium and then will enjoy going home.”

Bottas said: “Red Bull were too quick today, surprisingly quick. We thought race pace would be pretty identical but they could really control the race and build a gap when needed. I was trying everything I could but couldn’t keep up with them.

“I felt like it was a solid race on my part. No mistakes – I couldn’t get anything more out of the package today. In that sense it was a good race. I was ahead of my team-mate. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the podium so it’s going to be nice, even though there’s not going to be champagne there. The team has been amazing this year so I’m really proud we got one-two in the drivers’ championship.”

Hamilton said: “You can’t win them all. Considering the past couple weeks I have had, I am really genuinely happy with the weekend. It is not as good as we would like but congrats to Max. It was a really hard race for me physically. All year physically I have been fine but today I definitely wasn’t. I am just glad it is over. A big thank you to the team for their continued support. It is still a fantastic result to get two podium finishes.”

A 23-race calendar has been established for the 2021 season, which is anticipated to begin in March. For F1 fans, the major excitement now will be seeing who fills the few remaining seats, and then keeping their fingers crossed to see whether the season will commence as planned in Melbourne.

2020 has been a strange season of F1, with a selection of races that have either been very exciting or painfully dull. Sadly, the Abu Dhabi GP fell into the latter category. It has been a bad race for a while as it’s not very conducive to overtaking, and it proved no different this year. I say this not to take anything away from Verstappen’s commanding victory, but the Red Bull driver normally loves to be pushed by a rival, and there was no risk of that this time round.

Hamilton was back after receiving a negative Covid test, but he added that he was fatigued and wasn’t sure he was fully up to the race. His unusually poor third-place finish suggests that he should have taken the weekend off to further recover – after last week, I can’t be the only person disappointed that George Russell didn’t get another go in the Mercedes. Who knows – perhaps he would have taken the fight to Bottas and Verstappen and made this race a little more interesting?

The most immediate question is whether Albon’s uninspiring fourth will be enough to keep his seat at Red Bull

So, onto the future. The most immediate question is whether Albon’s uninspiring fourth will be enough to keep his seat at Red Bull. Daniil Kvyat’s contract at AlphaTauri is also yet to be finalised but, whether or not these drivers return, there will be lots of change.

Carlos Sainz will be Charles Leclerc’s new teammate at Ferrari, replacing Sebastian Vettel, who has moved over to the renamed Aston Martin with Lance Stroll. Fernando Alonso will return to F1 racing for Alpine, and the Schumacher name will reappear as Mick races for Haas. He will be joined by a fellow debutant, Nikita Mazepin.

The rules are frozen for next season, meaning Mercedes go into 2021 the firm favourites once again, but this bizarre season has shown that upsets can and do happen. More races like the Italian and Sakhir Grand Prix next season will ensure an interesting and unpredictable season, so let’s hope for that.


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