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ANALYSIS: Assessing the field – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

8 Mins read
Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

And just like that, the curtain was drawn on the 2020 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season. A rollercoaster of a year, and that’s putting it kindly, after the global coronavirus pandemic put a hold to proceedings when the season initially began back in March. After much of Europe, in particular, went into lockdown, the season finally got underway in June, with some new circuits added to the map, but it concluded in a familiar place: Yas Marina Circuit, in Abu Dhabi. 

TOP OF THE CLASS

Max Verstappen – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.325s | Race margin to team-mate: 19.987s

Max was so, so close to scoring a Grand Chelem: Leading from pole, winning the race and scoring the fastest lap. Former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, however, took it from his grasp during the final couple of laps of the race. 

Putting that aside, it was a trouble-free lights to flag victory for Verstappen. Having made a good getaway and pulling a gap out in front of the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. Capitalising on the virtual safety car – brought out in response to Perez retiring at the side of turn 18 – Verstappen pitted for the hard compound, to then rejoin a very comfortable 7.5 seconds ahead of Bottas. 

Verstappen’s win marked his first in Abu Dhabi, his first of the 2020 season and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s first win at Yas Marina Circuit since 2013. An all round good weekend for the Dutchman and the team! 

Max Verstappen won the final race of the 2020 season | Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.318s | Race margin to team-mate: -4.933s

Along with team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr., Norris helped secure third in the Constructors’ Championship for McLaren, which is their best result since their last third place in 2012. Norris finished the race in fifth place, around a solid five seconds ahead of departing team-mate Sainz. It was a sensational performance for Norris who had qualified in fourth place and over race distance, only lost one place. Lando has had a strong second season with the team, having finished thirteen of the seventeen races in the top ten and scoring his first career podium in the first race of the season at the Red Bull Ring. Rounding off the year in Abu Dhabi with a fifth place was enough to secure the team the vital winning spot in the battle for the midfield. 

Alexander Albon – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.325s | Race margin to team-mate: +19.987s

Alexander Albon scored his best result since the Bahrain Grand Prix – where he achieved his maiden career podium – fourth place, just shy of a podium at Yas Marina Circuit. With his seat at the team still under scrutiny, it was a strong performance from the Thai racer in what Team Principal Christian Horner described as the team’s ‘strongest collective weekend’. Albon finished only 1.5 seconds behind Hamilton who was in third. Let’s hope this was enough to secure his seat in the team for 2021!

Carlos Sainz Jr. – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.318s | Race margin to team-mate: +4.933s

Over the season, Carlos has brought home 105 points to contribute towards their third place in the Constructors’ Championship and what a way to say goodbye to the team, than finish the final race of the season strongly, in sixth place, and gain vital points to elevate McLaren to third. Carlos is the king of consistency, so it was no surprise he finished the race where he began, in sixth place. A solid performance from the Spaniard. 

Daniel Ricciardo – Renault DP World F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.047s | Race margin to team-mate: -27.321s

It was Ricciardo’s final race for Renault DP World F1 Team after being with the French Marque for two years, and for 38 races. Although seventh overall wasn’t probably what Daniel had expected from his final race, he clinched the fastest lap on the final racing lap of the race, taking that accolade from former team-mate and race winner, Max Verstappen, at the final second. In spite of the seventh place finish, Ricciardo raced hard. He ran for 39 laps on his initial set of tyres and found himself running in fifth for most of the grand prix before finally pitting. He’d made a big enough gap to only lose two positions following his pit stop and that would be where he would stay for the remainder of the race. 

It goes without saying that 2020 was a much stronger season at Renault than his first in 2019, but the efforts of the team, Ricciardo and Ocon weren’t enough for the team to claim higher than fifth place in the Constructors’. 

Abu Dhabi not only marked Ricciardo’s last race with the team, but Renault’s last race as we know them before they take the name of sister company Alpine from 2021. 

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.061s  | Race margin to team-mate: +2.439s

Having just recovered from mandatory self isolation in Bahrain following a coronavirus diagnosis, Hamilton had a strong performance during the final race of the season. It was clear he was still feeling the effect of COVID-19, so it was no surprise to everyone watching that he struggled throughout the race. Hamilton expressed his disappointment that he finished third, in a place he wasn’t really used to, but knowing the effects of COVID, he did well to finish the weekend at all, let alone in third place, while recovering. The 2020 Drivers’ Champion kept up with Bottas for the duration of the race and managed to fend off Albon, who closed in within 1.5 seconds, through the final laps of the race. 

https://twitter.com/F1/status/1338909437491171328?s=20

Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.061s | Race margin to team-mate: -2.439s

Valtteri has definitely had an unlucky streak through the 2020 season, so it was great to see him comfortably up there in the podium positions. He had a strong race even though he couldn’t close on race winner Verstappen, but no one is going to shrug off another second place being added to your stats?! 

HOMEWORK TO DO

Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Vettel ou tin Q2  | Race margin to team-mate: + 1 lap on race leader

Charles was lapping a second or so slower than team mate Vettel in the first part of the race. Pitting on lap 23 – which many would argue, was poorly timed and he should’ve stayed out longer or pitted under the safety car – he then reentered the field in last place, seven seconds behind Fittipaldi. Leclerc was able to make up position to finish thirteenth overall – not a great result for a driver who’s shown so much promise in bursts through the season. 

Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Out in Q2  | Race margin to team-mate: + 1 lap on race leader

In what was his final race for the Scuderia, Vettel knew going into the weekend, it wouldn’t be what he’d have expected from his final race with the team, and knew with the lack of pace the SF1000 has had all season, it would be a challenge to push into the top 10. His send off on-track wasn’t what we’d have hoped for for the four-time World Champion.

Vettel had a strong start to the race, even contesting in eighth place for some of it, ahead of team-mate Leclerc, however when Sebastian pitted on lap 36, he rejoined in fifthteenth place behind Russell. From fifthteenth, Vettel was only able to make up a place across the race distance to finish a place behind his team-mate, in fourteenth place. 

I think now, we all just hope Aston Martin are able to extract the best out of Vettel, we all know his worth and the talent he has – it would be good to see more podiums and wins from him come 2021. 

Scuderia Ferrari say goodbye to Sebastian Vettel | Credit: Scuderia Ferrari

Sergio Perez – Racing Point Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Out in Q1 | Race margin to team-mate: : Perez retired

In his last race for Racing Point Formula One Team, and possibly in Formula 1 for the foreseeable, retiring from the race really wasn’t how Perez and the team wished to end their partnership. 

Having changed engine and starting on the back row of the grid, it was looking promising for Checo; coming from the back of the field at Sakhir, following a first lap altercation, to win last time out, it looked like an easy feat. Unfortunately on lap ten, the RP20 came to a halt, and the race ended there for the Mexican. According to Perez, it was the same issue that ended his chances at the Bahrain Grand Prix

Lance Stroll – Racing Point Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Perez out in Q1 | Race margin to team-mate: Perez retired

Perez’s team-mate Stroll didn’t have a very spectacular send off as a driver for Racing Point, before they rebrand to Aston Martin for 2021. Stroll qualified in eighth place and during the 55 lap race, he lost two positions to finish tenth, claiming minimum points. Added to this, the unlucky day for Stroll and Perez meant that the team lost the battle for third in the Constructors’ championship after the team had worked extremely hard all season to get the team up there in the fight. 

REST OF THE FIELD

Scuderia Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly scored a top ten finish in what was not a very easy race for the Frenchman. He crossed the line in an impressive eighth place, after struggling to get to grips with the AT01 all weekend. Team-mate Daniil Kvyat had started the race in his best qualifying poisition of the season: Eighth place, but then the Russian struggled during the race with traffic and severe tyre degradation, thus proving a challenge and rendering his best finishing position just out of the points in eleventh. 

Esteban Ocon took ninth from Lance Stroll on the last corner during the final lap of the race, to add to the points tally headed by team-mate. It was a strong finish to the season for the Frenchman. 

The Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN duo Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, finished the grand prix in twelfth and sixteenth place respectively. For Raikkonen twelfth was a great result considering the performance we’ve come to know from the ferrari-engined C39. It was a trouble-free race for the pair, who will continue with the team into 2021. 

George Russell was back in his 9-5, firmly in the FW43 for a final farewell to the 2020 season, after covering for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for the Sakhir Grand Prix. Russell made up one place on his starting position, crossing the line in fifteenth place. His Williams Racing team-mate Nicholas Latifi had struggled with balance issues through the early stages of the race and a two-stop strategy cementing his place in seventeenth. 

Haas F1 Team’s Kevin Magnussen closed the chapter on his time in Formula 1 with a clean race, but no spectacular results came his way. The Dane had mixed emotions following his exit from the sport saying he had fulfilled a childhood dream, but was eager to return to the top step of a podium. Kevin will contest in IMSA next year with Chuck Ganassi

Pietro Fittipaldi, had a fairly trouble-free race, while standing in for the second weekend in a row, for now departing Romain Grosjean. Fittipaldi had suffered with overheating issues during the final race of the season but he had been grateful for the opportunity given to him by Haas, getting a taste of Formula 1 racing.

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