Words by Tony Robertson.
Sub-edited by Riley Taylor
The 2020 Formula 1 season concluded with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where Max Verstappen took his second win of the season, and McLaren claimed the all-important third place in the constructor’s championship.
The Dutch driver led throughout the 55-lap race after qualifying on pole, outpacing the two Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and the returning Lewis Hamilton. He even broke the Silver Arrows streak of claiming pole in every Saturday qualifying session of the season before this weekend.Embed from Getty Images
This race also concluded the race for the constructor’s championship, with McLaren taking the third-place spot ahead of Racing Point, who could only muster a single point through Lance Stroll who finished P10 as he was overtaken by Renault’s Esteban Ocon for P9 on the final lap, while Sakhir Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez was forced to retire on lap 10 of his last race for Racing Point, ending his 10-year partnership with the team.
CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS— Formula 1 (@F1) December 13, 2020
Congratulations to @McLarenF1, who claim third in the championship!
They edge out Racing Point and Renault after a season-long battle ⚔️
Carlos Sainz is still to be investigated after the race#AbuDhabiGP 🇦🇪 #F1 pic.twitter.com/Q7u1NtKEca
While last week’s Grand Prix was full of twists and turns, this weekend’s race was a rather tame affair by comparison.
Abu Dhabi is not a track which with a lot of overtaking opportunities, despite its layout suggesting otherwise. Modern F1 cars are not designed to follow one another, they are instead designed to cut through clean and undisturbed air currents.
Unfortunately, Yas Marina circuit creates a lot of dirty air, with several drivers complaining about the lack of grip when following cars in front of them throughout the race.
However, this worked in Red Bull’s favour as Verstappen never looked to be under a significant threat from Mercedes, as he got away at both the grid start and the rolling safety car restart, caused by Perez being forced to pull over and retire on lap 10 due to a lack of engine power from a transmission problem.
Before this, Alex Albon, who started in P5 sandwiched between the two McLaren’s of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, completed a move on Norris on lap six at turn nine, using his DRS to full effect.
Further down the order, Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified a disappointing P12, benefitted from a driver swap, as he was allowed to pass Ocon due to the Frenchman’s relative lack of pace.
With Perez out of the race and a safety car deployed, most of the teams decided to pit their drivers. Mercedes completed a successful double stack this week, much to the dismay of George Russell at the Sakhir Grand Prix, while McLaren did the same. Although Sainz is being investigated for allegedly slowing down unnecessarily in the pit lane, which Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer said prevented Stroll from overtaking the future Ferrari driver during Sky’s F1 coverage.
The outliers with regards to pitting were entirely from teams with a Ferrari engine, other than Ricciardo. Meaning Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kevin Magnussen who was driving his last race in F1, were all who didn’t make a stop under the safety car.
This paid dividends for Ricciardo and the two Ferrari’s as they gained track position, albeit at the expense of fresher tyres. Ricciardo got away under the safety car in P5 while the two Ferrari’s were sandwiched between the McLaren’s, finding themselves P7 and P8.Embed from Getty Images
As the race progressed the natural deficit of pace which has plagued the Scuderia all season bared its fangs once again, as the other midfield cars overtook in the DRS zones, eventually condemning Ferrari to P13 and P14, putting an end to a very disappointing season.
After Sainz was able to overtake the pair, it was the job of Stroll to do the same. The Canadian managed the first with relative ease but struggled with the second, allowing Pierre Gasly and Ocon to close up and put the pressure on, with the former overtaking him for P9.
Vettel being in the position he was for such a long time, gave Ricciardo a vital buffer zone which meant when he emerged from his pit, he would be among the points. The Australian eventually pitted on lap 40, completing a magnificent stint on the hard tyres and switching over to medium tyres for the final 15 laps.
The race petered out in the final laps, allowing Verstappen to come home with his second win of the season, breaking Mercedes six-year stranglehold at this circuit.
Albon had managed to close his gap to Hamilton to just 1.8 seconds by the race end, but it was too little too late for the Thai driver, who will be hoping he will have done enough to keep his seat for next season.
Norris, Sainz and Ricciardo followed, as the battle for P9 took one last twist on the final lap, with Ocon overtaking Stroll at turn eight and making it stick, meaning the final point positions of the 2020 season went to Gasly, Ocon and Stroll.
Post-race saw some donuts from Bottas, Hamilton and Magnussen as the 2020 season drew to a close, with Mercedes and Hamilton champions again, McLaren claiming the third-best constructor spot and Williams not scoring a point all season.
2021 will bring some big changes to the sport, most notably with several drivers moving around the paddock.
Vettel brings his stay at Ferrari to an end, moving to Aston Martin at the expense of Perez, who was fourth in the drivers’ standings but somehow has no drive for 2021. Sainz moves into his vacant seat, which allows Ricciardo to partner Norris at McLaren.
Two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso returns to Renault after a two year-absence from F1. Romain Grosjean and Magnussen both leave F1, being replaced by Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, while there are still two seats at Honda-powered cars which potentially vacancies, with neither incumbent, those being Albon and Daniil Kvyat, knowing whether their future lies in F1 or elsewhere.