Abu Dhabi GP: Hamilton cruises to victory in dramatic finale

Lewis Hamilton cruised to his 11th victory of the season with victory in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver was never challenged for the lead from the moment he launched off the grid.

Although Sebastian Vettel chased hard in the Ferrari, he simply could not match the World Champion when it mattered – aptly summing up how this season unfolded.

The grandstands erupted as they saluted Hamilton, the floodlights reflecting off his golden helmet, it was probably his easiest victory in what was effectively a dead rubber. But a popular one at Yas Marina Circuit.

Max Verstappen was third in the Red Bull ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo in fourth. The Dutchman had to recover from a tardy start, but once in a rhythm he made his way forward fast, bouncing past the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas on his way to third.

There was drama early on in the race when Romain Grosjean’s Haas clattered into the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg which was launched into the air, bouncing across the track before it ended upside down in the safety wall. Report here>>>

It was also a race of high attrition with five cars failing to finish including Kimi Raikkonen, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and Marcus Ericsson, the quartet racing for their respective teams for a final time on the night.

At the sharp end five times world champion Hamilton signed off in style, “I am so happy right now” he sadi after Hollywood actor Will Smith brought down the chequered flag at the floodlit Yas Marina circuit on Mercedes driver’s 73rd career win.

The Briton, who has won 51 of the 100 races in the V6 turbo hybrid era, became the first driver to score more than 400 points in a season with a final tally of 408.

His victory also left him 18 wins away from Michael Schumacher’s all-time record.

Two times world champion Fernando Alonso, in his farewell race with McLaren, had hoped to sign off in the points but finished 11th.

With both championships already won, Hamilton taking his in Mexico with two races to spare and Mercedes sealing their fifth successive constructors’ and drivers’ double in Brazil, Sunday’s focus was on the race and those moving on — particularly Alonso.

Hamilton, Vettel and the Spaniard — three great champions — spun their cars in a cloud of smoke at the end of their slowing down lap, before stepping out for hugs and words of mutual respect.

FIA Blow-By-Blow Report

At the start, Hamilton got away well from pole position to claim the lead advantage ahead of fellow front row starter and team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Vettel and Räikkönen.

The race was soon neutralised, however. As Hulkenberg and Grosjean tussled into the chicane, the pair collided and the Renault man’s car was flipped into a series of frightening rolls. He came to rest upside down on the barriers. The Renault driver soon emerged unscathed but the Safety Car was swiftly deployed.

When the SC left the track Hamilton held his advantage and was soon building a lead over Bottas and Vettel. Further back, Verstappen was making moves and he attacked Ocon soon after racing resumed. He got past but then seemed to struggle for power and Ocon swept past to reclaim the position.

The Red Bull man was told to try a reset and with that in place and effective, he muscled his way past the Force India driver in the second chicane to claim eighth place after dropping back from sixth at the start.

Räikkönen then ground to a halt on the start-finish straight with a total loss of power, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car.

That was the cue for Hamilton to pit on lap 7 and that vaulted Ricciardo up to P3 behind Bottas and Vettel. The Australian was now just four seconds behind Vettel, with Max two second behind his team-mate in P4.

Vettel was the next of the frontrunners to pit, the Ferrari driver taking on supersofts on lap 15. He emerged in P6 behind Ocon and then Bottas made the same move on the next lap. The moves meant that Ricciardo now led the race.

Verstappen’s opening hypersoft tyres were now beginning to fade and the Dutchman was the next to pit, taking on supersoft tyres and rejoining in P5 behind Vettel.

Race leader Ricciardo was now the only one of the top six to require a pit stop, but the Red Bull driver insisted his starting ultrasofts were in good shape. He proved it by managing a steady gap to Hamilton as he extended his opening stint.

Ricciardo finally made his sole stop on lap 33, taking on supersofts and rejoining in P5 behind Verstappen. He quickly began to make the most of his new tyres, closing a seven-second gap to Max to just 1.5s by lap 36.

Verstappen was also gaining ground, putting heavy pressure on Bottas, who twice locked up and went off track. Max continued to probe and on lap 39 he took a wide line through Turn 11 and then tucked in on the inside to pass in the next corner. The pair banged wheels but Verstappen claimed third place.

Ricciardo, juts behind, also got a run on the Mercedes man and on the next lap, under DRS into Turn 8, he breezed past to take P4.

The order at the front then settled, with Hamilton holding an advantage over Vettel of between four and five seconds while the Ferrari man managed a three-second gap back to the Red Bulls.

And, after 55 laps, Hamilton crossed the line to take his 11th win of the season ahead of Vettel. Max claimed his 11th podium of the season, and fourth place in the Drivers’ championship, ahead of Daniel who ended his final race of his five seasons with the team with fourth place.

Behind the Bulls, Bottas finished in fifth place ahead of Renault’s Carlos Sainz, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, the Force India of Sergio Perez and the Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Fernando Alonso ended his 311-start grand prix career with 11th place.