Mercedes clung on to second place in the constructors’ championship by the skin of their teeth – and a £10milllion cash boost – as Max Verstappen ended the most dominant season in Formula One history with another victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Verstappen failed to triumph at just three of the 22 rounds staged, and his latest win takes him to 54 for his career, leaving only Lewis Hamilton (103 wins) and Michael Schumacher (91) ahead of him.
The Dutchman finished 17 seconds clear of team-mate Sergio Perez but the Red Bull driver was demoted to fourth following a five-second penalty for a collision with Lando Norris.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was promoted to second with Mercedes’ George Russell third. Lewis Hamilton finished ninth in the other black-liviried machine with Mercedes three points clear of Ferrari in the standings to land a £105million reward, rather than £95m.
However, it marked a second straight season without a victory for Hamilton – a losing streak of 45 races – and Mercedes’ first winless campaign in a dozen years.
Norris finished fifth for McLaren, one place ahead of team-mate Oscar Piastri.
Verstappen has been in a class of one this season and Sunday’s 58-lap race round the Yas Marina Circuit never looked anything other than a Red Bull triumph – the team’s 21st of their all-conquering year – after he resisted a first-lap attack from Leclerc.
Leclerc tried and failed on three occasions to fight his way past Verstappen only for the triple world champion to keep him at bay on each occasion.
Behind, and Norris was on the move, making his way up to third ahead of Piastri and Russell.
Further back and Hamilton, who started 11th, was up two places to ninth, but by the end of the third lap he was in 10th as Perez swept by.
With Leclerc in second, and Russell and Hamilton fifth and 10th, Ferrari held second spot. But Russell was soon on the move to hand the initiative back to Mercedes.
On lap 11 he got ahead of Piastri after sling-shotting ahead of the Australian’s McLaren, and then three laps later, he took advantage of a slow pit stop for Norris to take third.
But in the other Mercedes, Hamilton feared he had sustained damage to his front wing after he biffed Pierre Gasly’s Alpine.
A check from Mercedes suggested otherwise, and team principal Toto Wolff was on the intercom to provide his star man with a pep talk.
“Lewis, you were the second quickest car on the last lap,” he said. “You are quick.” Moments later, the Austrian was back on the radio to tell Hamilton he was the speediest out there.
Wolff’s encouragement seemed to work. On lap 25, Hamilton was up to eighth after he passed Daniel Ricciardo before a second stop dropped him back down the order and in a duel with old foe Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton made his way ahead of Alonso only for the Spaniard to fight back past. Hamilton then accused Alonso of brake-testing him.
Carlos Sainz’s poor qualifying session left him 16th on the grid, but a desperate one-stop strategy saw him exposed to Alonso and then Hamilton as they moved by for eighth and ninth.
Advantage Mercedes. But Perez then threatened to provide a sting in their tail by hunting down Russell in the battle for third. If Perez finished ahead of Russell, the Silver Arrows would lose second spot.
With four laps to go, Perez fought his way past the English driver.
Perez took Leclerc on the last lap, but finished only 3.9 sec clear of Russell – dropping Perez to fourth – as Mercedes breathed a sigh of relief.
“It means a huge amount to so many people back at the factory,” said Russell. “They have worked so hard to achieve this. It has been a challenging season. But I can chill out now.
“I came out of the pits and Perez came from nowhere. He had great pace and it was tense at the end because the tyres were dropping off, but I am just pleased to secure P2 for the team and I am sure everyone will have a few drinks tonight.”
Leclerc said: “On one hand I am happy because there was not one thing we could have done better. We did an incredible job to get everything right but it is just a shame that we finished third in the championship.”
Verstappen, who became the first driver to lead 1,000 racing laps in a season, said after his 19th victory of the year: “It has been an incredible season.
“The in-lap was emotional because it was my last time sitting in a car that has given me so much. It will be hard to do something similar again but we definitely enjoyed this year.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe