Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Bottas beats Hamilton in desert bore

Valtteri Bottas managed to fend off teammate Lewis Hamilton to claim victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as Mercedes ended the season in dominant style, albeit in what was probably the most boring race of the 2017 season.

Yas Marina Circuit is arguably one of the most stunning destinations on the F1 calendar, but as a race circuit, it simply does not deliver. As result, the Herman Tilke designed venue produced a procession of a race, where overtaking – even with DRS – overtaking was rare and most of the action was way down the order.

Nevertheless, starting from pole position Bottas did not put a foot wrong all evening, even when Hamilton managed to get close the Finn seemed to have pace in reserve to keep the world champion at bay. 

The race winner summed up his race, “It is a really important win for me after having pretty difficult start to second half of the year. Working hard on all the issues and getting better and better with everything. This weekend, pole and win, couldn’t be happier to end the season like this.”

“Again, congratulations to Lewis for the title and congrats to Sebastian for second in the championship. I’m third this year and hopefully better next year. I was managing the pace and the race and that was a nice feeling. I had a lockup when approaching one of the lapped cars but otherwise no issues. The last five laps I managed to go quicker and build the gap. The car was so good and to the team, thank you very much,” added Bottas.

Hamilton got closest towards the end while overtaking backmarkers when Bottas made a slight error, but it remained a stalemate as Bottas sent his teammate a message by pulling away with ease to win by nearly four seconds.

The Briton said afterwards, “I did [give it everything]. Big congratulations to Valtteri, he did an amazing job today to hold me off.  It’s very hard to overtake here so once I got to the last sector I struggled a little bit. I want to say a big thank you to the team, what they have produced for us this year is just incredible, it’s just an honour to race with them.”

Ferrari were left in the desert dust as Sebastian Vettel, who qualified third, had no firepower at his disposal to mount even the slightest challenge. He finished a lonely and distant third, 15 seconds adrift of Bottas.

Vettel said in the post-race interview, “In the beginning, I tried very hard. I had a good start but then nowhere to go and locked up. After three, four or five laps I couldn’t go any faster and they pulled away. From there onwards, it was pretty lonely.

“On the second stint I really got into the car, got into the rhythm and had stronger pace but we couldn’t match those two guys. Congrats to Valtteri and very much congratulations to Lewis on his season. He deserves to win the championship this year. I hate to say it but he was the better man. We will do our bit over the weekend and hopefully come back stronger,” concluded the Ferrari driver.

Kimi Raikkonen crossed the finish line 26 seconds behind his teammate to finish fourth, ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who settled for fifth after a late race attack came to nought.

Despite a five seconds penalty, Nico Hulkenberg finished sixth and with it helped Renault leapfrog Toro Rosso to claim sixth place in the constructors’ championship (worth an estimated $8-million more in prize-money) while the Red Bull junior team’s drivers struggled at the wrong end of the field. 

Next up were the Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, in eighth and ninth respectively with Fernando Alonso ninth in the final race for the McLaren-Honda partnership.

Felipe Massa claimed the final point for Williams and thus bringing to an end his Formula 1 career that spanned 15 years.

Blow-By-Blow

At the start, Bottas got away cleanly from pole position and took the lead ahead of Hamilton, Vettel and Ricciardo who all retained their starting positions. Behind them, Verstappen closed on Räikkönen and made two aggressive attempts to pass the Finn. The second almost succeeded but in the end, the Dutchman backed out of the attack and Räikkönen held fifth as they crossed the line at the end of lap one.

Further back Hulkenberg went off track and rejoined in seventh place ahead of Perez who had got ahead at the start. The German was promptly handed a five-second time penalty for gaining an advantage.

The order then settled and by lap 10 Bottas had eked out a two-second advantage over Hamilton, with the British driver 2.7s clear of Vettel. Ricciardo was also managing to pull away from Räikkönen who was now 3.9s in arrears to the Australian.

That order remained the same through the first pit stops, though not for long afterwards. Following regulations stops for Verstappen, Räikkönen, Vettel and Bottas, Ricciardo dived towards the pit entry earlier than expected saying he suspected he had a puncture.

He took on supersofts tyres and rejoined in P4 but the real problem soon became clear. “I think I’m losing power steering,” he reported and then almost immediately drove off track and stopped at Turn 5, his race over.

At the front, Hamilton was the last of the front-runners to pit and his stop once again boosted Bottas into the lead. The Finn now led his team-mate by just over a second, but Vettel was now a sizeable 11.4s behind in third. Following Ricciardo’s retirement, Räikkönen was promoted to third, 1.5s ahead of Verstappen in the sole remaining Red Bull.

Ocon was sixth ahead Sainz and Hulkenberg. Sainz needed to make a first pit stop, and he did that on lap 31, in tandem with the sixth-placed Ocon.

While Ocon rejoined in P8, there was a problem for Sainz. His crew failed to attach his front left wheel correctly and the Spaniard barely it made out of the pit tunnel and back on track. He quickly pulled over and retired.

The stops, though, boosted Hulkenberg to P6, a position that if held would earn Renault eight points and elevate them to in the Constructors’ standings, above Toro Rosso, whose drivers, Hartley and Gasly, were lingering in P15 and P16 respectively.

And there the order stagnated. At the front, Bottas had a solid 1.7s advantage over Hamilton on lap 43, with Vettel a further 20 seconds back. He was followed by Raikkonen and Verstappen, while Hulkenberg was now secure in sixth place some seven seconds ahead of Perez.

And that was how it ended, with Bottas eventually taking his third victory of the season almost four seconds clear of Hamilton and almost 20 seconds ahead of Vettel, whose third place means he finishes as runner-up to Hamilton in the Drivers’ standings, 12 points ahead of Bottas. Raikkonen’s fourth place, coupled with Ricciardo’s retirement boosts the Finn ahead of the Australian, to fourth in the Drivers’ table.

Further back Hulkenberg held sixth place to hand Renault the same place in the teams’ standings. Perez was seventh for Force India ahead of team-mate Ocon, while Alonso handed two points to McLaren and Honda in the final race for the team and engine manufacturer as partners.

Finally, Felipe Massa scored a point on his final race in Formula 1, with the Brazilian retiring after 269 F1 starts.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit – Race Result

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