Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Maximum Effort Nets Max Verstappen Formula 1 Season Finale Win in Abu Dhabi

Photo Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool 

The entire 2020 Formula 1 season concluded with a final 305.47-kilometer run at the Yas Marina Circuit. This last race in what was a 17-race tour staged against the challenging circumstances of a global pandemic served as a victory overall as the top open-wheel racing team succeeded in providing a captivating distraction for motorsport fans starting in July. As teams arrived for the 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the year contained a number of memorable moments. 

A modern, attractive track, the 5.554-kilometer Yas Marina Circuit used for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is notorious for being a course with limited passing opportunities. The 21-turn track’s reputation made it evermore important for drivers to gain positions at the start of the race. Taking a monumental pole that displaced the dominant Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team from the top grid position for the first time in 2020, the Honda-powered Red Bull RB16 piloted by Max Verstappen started strong granting him open road into the early laps of the 55-lap event. Unlike previous grand prix races, the field finished the opening laps without incident though there was also very little movement among the 20-car group. The top-eight starters completed the first lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the same position as they started. 

Photo Credit: Charles Coates/LAT Images/Pirelli

Starting second-to-last on the grid after receiving a replacement power unit for the event, Sakhir Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez began a fight towards the top-10 eventually climbing five positions. Unfortunately, the Mexican’s final outing with Racing Point was cut short on lap 10 due to the second power unit failure in the past three races. A virtual safety car was first issued to the competitors to aid the removal of the pink Formula 1 car but the Mercedes-AMG GT-R safety car would later gather the field under the full-course caution. Coming to a rest out of turn 19, the #11 Racing Point machine would be the only car not to cross be running at the chequered flag. Ending his seven-year long career at Racing Point (known as Force India from 2014 to 2018), Perez’s Formula 1 future is still not announced for 2021 or beyond.  

With Lance Stroll the sole remaining Racing Point in the event, the Canadian’s performance had to overcome the combined efforts of the two McLaren Racing entries driven by Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. In securing the team’s third-place spot in the season’s Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship. When a physical safety car was deployed as track workers needed to retrieve Perez’s car, the majority of the field took advantage of the occasion to make a pit stop on the race’s tenth lap. Race leader Max Verstappen and the two Mercedes-AMG drivers were among those that pitted for new tires. The two McLaren Racing machines and Stroll’s Racing Point race car also joined the parade towards team crews resulting in a minor conflict between the constructors. Norris and Sainz both pitted providing a challenge for the McLaren squad. While Norris’ #4 car came for tires first, the #55 vehicle of Sainz followed but travelled slower entering pit road ahead of #18 Racing Point of Lance Stroll. Both McLaren Racing cars beat Stroll out but the Racing Point team were critical of Carlos Sainz’s somewhat lethargic entrance to the pits potentially costing better track position for the Canadian. Race stewards would clear McLaren and Sainz for the incident that ultimately decided the constructors’ standings battle.

Photo Credit: Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli

The 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a race most drivers completed with only a single pit stop. Most drivers taking a set of hard compound Pirelli tires on lap 10 but there would be a group of competitors that ran deeper into the 55-lap event. The top runner that stayed out past the safety car period was Daniel Ricciardo. Positioned in 11th place for the start, his Renault team placed the Australian on hard compound tires at the beginning of the race spending most the grand prix in fifth place until his eventual lap 39 tire stop. Ricciardo’s final race with the Renault factory team netted a seventh place result.

Scuderia Ferrari also attempted to extend their pit stop keeping both team drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel out after the safety car. Starting the race on medium compound tires, the #16 car of Leclerc pitted for new rubber on lap 22. Vettel ran his opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on hard compound Pirelli tires and remained in the lower half of the top-10 through the mid-portion of the race but began to lose traction before his lap 35 pit stop. Neither Ferrari race cars finished in the points for the final grand prix for what has been a very disappointing season for the Italian outfit. 

Photo Credit: Charles Coates/LAT Images/Pirelli

While not suffering the same kind of mishap that occurred in the Sakhir Grand Prix, the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team’s performance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was slightly sluggish compared to the pace set up Max Verstappen’s #33 Red Bull race car. Starting beside Verstappen on the grid, Valtteri Bottas was just slightly edged-out by the Dutch driver into the first corner. Bottas drove a largely flawless event in second place but watched the contender with Red Bull Racing slip away to a growing lead following the end of the race’s safety car period. The #77 Mercedes-AMG W11 F1 EQ Performance race car in the hands of the Finnish driver would itself pull out a steady gap over teammate Lewis Hamilton’s #44 machine. Hamilton returned to competition after a COVID-19 test returned negative prior to the Formula 1 finale in Abu Dhabi.

At the end of 55 laps, Max Verstappen captured his second victory in the 2020 Formula 1 in the most convincing fashion. Crossing the finish line 15.976 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Verstappen and his Honda-powered Red Bull race car accomplished the feat from pole while also setting the fastest lap in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The finish is the sixth consecutive occasion that a race on the Yas Marina Circuit was won from pole position. 

With a runner-up finish in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas was able to hold on to second-place in the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship with a 9-point gap over Max Verstappen after 17 races. The second Mercedes-AMG driven by seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton completed what he described as “a hard race” in a post-race team transcript in third place. Hamilton’s 14th podium in the 2020 season came as the #23 Red Bull Racing car of Alexander Albon was drawing close in the late laps. A 1.572-second interval separated third and fourth place at the end of the grand prix. Although the team faced a tough battle from Red Bull Racing, the Mercedes-AMG factory Formula 1 celebrated after overall dominant season where they collected a total of 573 constructor points and 13 race wins.

Photo Credit: LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

A fifth-place finish for Lando Norris and sixth-place result for Carlos Sainz Jr. combined to give McLaren Racing third-place in the Formula 1 World Constructors’ Championship standings. Scoring a total of 18 points and Lance Stroll fighting grip late in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to finish 10th gave McLaren a 7-point advantage over Racing Point. Set to be renamed Aston Martin next year, Racing Point still accomplished a lot in 2020 collecting 122 points more than 2019 despite there being four fewer events on this season’s improvised calendar.

Behind Daniel Ricciardo finishing in seventh place at the Yas Marina Circuit is a pair of Frenchmen. The Honda-powered AlphaTauri race car driven by Pierre Gasly took the chequered flag in eighth place ahead of the second factory Renault driver Esteban Ocon who grabbed the position from Stroll in the final lap of the race. 

With the completion of the 2020 Formula 1 season, drivers, teams and even the series itself were preparing for a new year that will hopefully be able to stretch across the world as it has in years prior.

2020 Formula 1
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Race Results

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