ABU DHABI: Lewis Hamilton delivered sumptuous confirmation of his title-winning supremacy yesterday when he claimed his 84th career victory and 11th in 21 races this year by dominating the season-ending ‘twilight’ Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Starting from a record 88th pole position, the 34-year-old Briton was unchallenged from lights to flag as he cruised to an untroubled triumph 16 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who faced a post-race investigation for fuel irregularities.
The six-times world champion’s success extended his points-scoring run to a record-equalling 33 races, levelling with his own record, and brought him his 50th victory from pole position.
“That was an absolute master-class,” Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington told him on team radio. “You didn’t even break into a sweat!” The winner, who secured title number six with two races to go in Texas last month replied: “I can assure you, I am definitely sweating.”
His fifth win at the Yas Marina circuit drew him level with Ayrton Senna in claiming a 19th start-to-finish triumph. Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who had started from the back of the grid after taking a new engine, came home fourth ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari and Alex Albon in the second Red Bull.
It was a welcome morale boost for the competitive Finn, three days after announcing the end of his three-year marriage to Emilia. Sergio Perez took seventh for Racing Point on the final lap, Lando Norris was eighth for McLaren, Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso ninth and Carlos Sainz, in the second McLaren, took 10th.
The race was preceded by drama for Ferrari when Leclerc’s car was discovered, during a pit-lane inspection, to have a fuel irregularity that revealed “significant discrepancies” and required a planned post-race stewards investigation.
It was embarrassing for the team, in one of Ferrari’s key markets and close to the Ferrari World theme park, but this seemed to have no effect on the Monegasque who made a strong start and passed Verstappen for second at Turn Eight on the opening lap.
Hamilton made a perfect start to his 250th F1 race and was 1.6 seconds clear after one lap and 3.3 by lap six as Leclerc launched his pursuit, moving two seconds clear of the Dutchman in a bid to overhaul him and take third in the drivers’ championship.
After a typically hot day, the sun went down and the floodlights came on around the track. Verstappen pitted on lap 26, re-joining third behind Leclerc before, a lap later, Hamilton came in to take ‘hards’ in 3.2 seconds and retained his lead.
He was six seconds clear of Leclerc with Verstappen adrift by 4.6 and complaining of power problems. Bottas came in on lap 30 for an impeccable stop, returning in sixth as Hamilton, in supreme form, clocked a fastest lap in 1:41.070 to go 12 seconds clear of Leclerc.
Despite his complaints, Verstappen had great speed and he passed Leclerc with a dazzling move at Turn Eight, which he defended stoutly, to take second and delight his ‘orange army’ in the grandstands.
Bottas then broke the track lap record, set by Vettel for Red Bull in 2009, with a 1:39.715. He was sixth and chasing down Albon with 19 laps to go. On lap 39, Leclerc and Vettel pitted again, without problem this time, as Bottas took fourth from Albon. Verstappen, in radio conversation with his team, chuckled as he said: “Are both Ferraris on a two-stop? I can hear it behind you!”
The closing stages were punctuated by drama as Bottas closed down Leclerc to fight for third and Hamilton, on cue, clocked a new lap record in 1:39.283, setting himself up to claim another clean sweep of pole position, fastest lap and race victory.
It was the third time Hamilton had scored 11 wins in a season, equalling his records set in 2014 and last year. – AFP