2020 has been one of the worst years for social interaction in decades yet somehow sporting codes have found a way to bring interaction back to life. Football codes have played in front of empty stands, cricket has bowled and batted on television, and Formula 1 has broadcast to the world with slowly increasing numbers in the grandstands.
2020 delivered 17 rounds of F1, and the final round brings endings aplenty. Daniel Ricciardo wraps two reasonable years at Renault before transitioning to McLaren. Haas has signed the cheques for Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for the final time, whilst Sergio Perez remains in limbo, facing an F1-free 2021. Sebastian Vettel will wave goodbye to Ferrari, to be replaced by Carlos Sainz.
Racing Point will end that name, effectively, on December 14, to be rebranded as Aston Martin Racing and will be home for Vettel on a “multiyear deal.” 2020 champion Lewis Hamilton returns after sitting out the second Bahrain based event, and at the time of writing is yet to confirm a seat with Mercedes for 2021.
Haas has replaced Magnussen and Grosjean, who ended his season in November after being caught in a fire in his vehicle after a barrier impact, with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, who enters December under a cloud of scandal. Red Bull also has a cloud over Alexander Albon, this one more of “will he or won’t he stay” at Red Bull, as they also have yet to declare their stand.
The final practice sessions brought fire to Kimi Raikkonen’s AlfaRomeo. Free Practice 2 and gentle sparks were fanned by the speed of Raikkonen’s car into a fireball engulfing the engine. The ice-cold Finn was told by his garage to “…get the hell out of there”, which he would later reply to with: “No, there was nothing scary about it. It was just a shame it catches on fire and then obviously it gets all messy afterward with trying to put the fire out. It’s one of those things.” Raikkonen also confirmed that irrespective of any damage, he was due a new drivetrain for the weekend anyway.
A fuel pressure issue hobbled Ricciardo’s FP1 session, with Bottas having a throttle sensor issue in FP2. After the first two it would be “Mr. Saturday”, Valtteri Bottas, at 2/10ths faster than Hamilton, with the next eleven cars separated, from Verstappen to Gasly, by eight and a half tenths of a second.
Qualifying and it was breakthrough time for Max Verstappen. His pole position marks the first non-Mercedes pole at Abu Dhabi since 2013 and the only pole of the 2020 season for anybody without a Mercedes power unit. P2 and P3 went to Bottas, his ninth P2 of the year and Hamilton, still recovering from his covid illness. All three were separated by just 0.086 of a second. Lando Norris added to the good news for McLaren with P4 with teammate Sainz snaring P6.
Sandwiched in between was Alexander Albon, continuing his run of great top five but not top three qualifyings. Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll stood nose to nose during qualifying, with the Russian fractionally quicker than the Canadian, taking P7 and P8 respectively. Leclerc and Gasly finished the top ten.
Renault failed to crack the top ten however Esteban Ocon outqualified Ricciardo in Q2 by a half of a tenth of a second. Sebastian Vettel’s miserable 2020 for Ferrari continued for P13, ahead of Giovinazzi, Perez, Raikkonen, Magnussen and the returning to Williams George Russell. Pietro Fittipaldi and Nicholas Latifi failed to make a dent in Q2.
Race time and 55 laps later it was a win for Red Bull and Verstappen. He would head the Mercedes duo of Bottas and Hamilton from start to finish, with The Silver Arrows failing to lead a lap for the first time this year. He would cross the line a blink under sixteen seconds ahead of the Finn, with Hamilton in 3rd and a second and a half adrift.
Sergio Perez, sadly, would be the only driver to not complete the race, with what appeared to be a repeat of his engine failure from Bahrain. It was a frustrated Perez exiting the smoking Racing Point, raising his arms in exasperation as his 2020 season came to an end.
Verstappen, in comparison, was finally able to display the pace he’d threatened against Mercedes this year. After restarting the race when Perez’s car was cleared, he’d lead Bottas by 1.5 seconds at the end of the restart lap.
Tires were becoming crucial in the first half for Leclerc. Starting on mediums rubber, by lap 22 he’d been passed by four drivers, Sainz, Stroll, Gasly and Ocon. He would stop from P12 to put on hard tires on Lap 22, emerging P19 and last. He’d finish P13 but ahead of Vettel.
Albon and Norris would swap places for the end, with Albon’s race pace getting him to be a full forty seconds ahead of Norris. Sainz drove a clean race for P6 whilst Ricciardo made up plenty of room to snare P7. He’d been in P5 however Renault had again held him on race start rubber until lap 39. Gasly, Ocon, and Stroll filled the top ten, with Kvyat’s qualifying pace disappearing for P11.
Raikkonen would head the Ferraris of Leclerc and Vettel, with Russell’s star turn last weekend a fading memory for P15. Giovinazzi was quiet for P16, ahead of Latifi, showing some pace ahead of Magnussen in his last Haas round and Fittipaldi.
Said the winner, Verstappen: “It was really enjoyable. Yesterday of course, but today we had a good start and from then on, of course, you look after the tires, but the car was having a really good balance and it was really enjoyable out there today. We did everything basically alright. Once you start upfront you can control the pace a bit more and it makes your life a bit easier. Also I saw that the Mercedes was dropping off behind me so I could take it a bit easier. I had to go through a bit of traffic, the backmarkers, but overall, it was a very strong race for the team.”
That brings to an end the foreshortened 2020 season and the time in teams for some, plus a name for another. Norris and Sainz in their final race for the year helped McLaren to third place in the constructors’ championship on 202, heading Racing Point and Renault by 7 and 23 points. Ferrari finishes 2020 in 6th, way off with 131 points, with Williams failing to score a solitary point.
F1 returns for 2021 with Melbourne again slated to be the season opener. No doubt there may still be some driver lineups to be finalized.