Valtteri Bottas took his third victory of the 2017 campaign at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix seeing off a challenge from title holder Lewis Hamilton.
Bottas appeared in control of the race but always had Hamilton on his tail, particularly in the second half of the race where the Englishman seemed to get extra speed from the supersoft tires.
In third, and a full 19 seconds off the pace, was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Entirely outclassed and lacking speed, Vettel never stood a chance of making a contest of the grand prix after a season that had promised so much for the Scuderia.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo suffered yet another engine failure and pulled out of the race at the mid-point, allowing Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to take fourth and Max Verstappen to end in fifth.
Comfortable Race Gives Bottas Confidence
Bottas has come under pressure from some corners for his inconsistent form over the season. But the Finn entirely controlled this weekend, taking pole ahead of Hamilton and then leading the race from the front.
There were no signs of the pole position problems he encountered in Brazil where he lost the lead in the first corner. This time around, Bottas got a strong start and set the pace to keep Hamilton and the Ferrari’s at bay.
Bottas was 2.5 second ahead when he made his only pit stop on lap 20, while Hamilton stayed out for three further laps in an attempt to ‘undercut’ the Finn but he did not have enough speed.
After his pit stop, Hamilton closed the gap to 1.1 seconds where he stayed for four laps but an error on Turn 17 cost some time.
For the rest of the race, Hamilton stayed within 1.5 seconds but could not break the stalemate in the hot, turbulent air behind Bottas.
“There was a lot of pressure from Lewis from behind throughout the entire race. I knew that one proper mistake could have ruined it,” said Bottas.
“Looking at the overall season, I need to perform better; but I’m very pleased with how the end of the season has been going for me. I’m really happy to be part of the team that won the constructors’ championship. Mercedes has given me the opportunity to win a few races and claim a few pole positions, so I’m a really proud team member.”
This season will be seen as a missed opportunity at Maranelo after Vettel led the title until the mid-season break before a spectacular collapse saw his championship prospects fade away.
As it happened, if the title came down to the final race in Abu Dhabi then Hamilton would have done enough to beat Vettel anyway.
In a symbol of how dramatic the season has turned for Vettel, the engine mode in his Ferrari had to be turned down, costing him speed, just to ensure that he could finish the race and take second in the driver’s standings ahead of Bottas.
Looking ahead, Vettel said: “The results have been worse than they could have been, but in the end we weren’t strong enough. However, it’s against the spirit of Ferrari to give up. I am sure we have a lot of things to improve and the people are very motivated. So, I am looking forward to next season.”
Renault Ends Strong
Renault have called Nico Hulkenberg’s efforts in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ‘amazing’ after he came back from a five-second penalty for overtaking Force India’s Sergio Perez off the track on lap one to finish in sixth and move Renault ahead of Toro Rosso in the constructor’s standings.
The result represents a huge financial windfall for Renault with additional price money, but it also a significant step forward for the team.
Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul said: “It’s a milestone for the team and an achievement that goes beyond the on-track result. It’s a motivation for everyone – for every team member and a fantastic reward that will count far more through the winter than any financial considerations.”