“Abu Dhabi GP: Hamilton wins race and championship”
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this evening and with it his 2nd world championship title.
Williams duo Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas rounded out the podium – the team’s first double podium in nine years.
Hamilton jumped teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg off the line, leading for much of the race thereafter.
Unfortunately for Rosberg, there was little chance of a fight back. The German racer held close to the leader for a time, with both opting to stop on laps ten and eleven for fresh tyres, briefly allowing Massa into the front.
Once the status quo had set again, but as the race aged Hamilton began to edge away from the German. This all changed when on lap twenty-four Rosberg, his Mercedes machine suddenly humbled by an ERS failure, began to slow dramatically.
Losing 2-3 seconds per lap, Hamilton sped into the distance, while Rosberg was helpless to defend against the onslaught of a healthy field drawing in with each tour.
With the Rosberg threat evaporating with every single lap, Mercedes ‘turned down’ Hamilton’s power unit to help prevent a similar issue on the champion’s machine.
The Mercedes man dropped to 2nd when he stopped for a 2nd time on lap 31; however where Hamilton reveled on fresh rubber, Massa continued to set a solid pace on aging Pirelli rubber.
Indeed the lowering temperatures helped Massa’s cause a great deal. With heat gently evaporating from the road surface and fuel tanks emptying at a steady rate, so the Williams FW36 powered at the front, maintaining a 15s gap to Hamilton.
As Massa and Hamilton continued to set the order, Rosberg’s decent down the timing screen made Hamilton champion by default.
In feisty mood, Hamilton set several fastest laps from lap 41 onward, prompting Williams to react and bring Massa in for supersofts come the 43rd tour, allowing Hamilton back into the lead.
On fresh rubber, Massa fought back with four fastest laps in a row, but Hamilton upped the tempo once again and capped the distance to Massa at just over 3s through the final few circulations.
This was more than enough to give Hamilton the title – admittedly the artificial add-on of double points served to inflate the gaps in the points standings somewhat, but ultimately the result would have remained the same.
A deserved champion, Hamilton’s crowning glory was this fabulous performance under the Middle East lights – at the pinnacle of motorsport, there is precious little more valuable than winning to take the title.
Rosberg’s machine, however, was humbled in the final stint. Hampered by an ailing car, the German dropped out of sight and the contender was lapped on the 53rd lap as he dropped to a lowly 14th position.
Massa settled into 2nd place, missing out on the victory by just 2.5s after 55 tours, but in reality Hamilton had the Brazilian covered.
His teammate Valtteri Bottas scored another podium with 3rd place in his Williams machine – the first double-podium for the Grove team for nine years. Bottas’ result comes despite a dreadful start that dropped the Finn from the second row to 8th by turn one.
Stopping after only ten laps allowed Bottas to play an aggressive strategy giving him a clear pace advantage when clear air made itself available. Yet Bottas’ aggressiveness did not destroy his tyres, as his naturally smooth nature
As tyre stints unfolded, Bottas rose back up the order, taking Red Bull duo Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo (twice) along the way.
It proved an important podium for the Finn, who secured 4th in the Drivers’ Championship thanks to his sixth podium finish, but more than anything this was startlingly good drive by Bottas, who kept his head as the race appeared to fall apart at the start, once again marking himself out as a racer who should be feared in the future.
Ricciardo ended the day 4th, despite starting 20th on the grid after his exclusion from qualifying. The Australian persevered through a long opening stint, that only saw him make the move for tyres at the halfway mark.
Such was Ricciardo’s care, from lap seven to his eventual stop twenty tours later, the Red Bull man registered sixteen laps in the late-to-mid 1’48s, as his calm approach and intelligence behind the wheel allowed him to pick off competitors as strategies fell away.
Jenson Button enjoyed a good race to 5th in what may be his final Grand Prix. Nico Hulkenberg headed a force India 6th-7th- in front of Sergio Perez, despite Hulkenberg taking a five-second stop-go penalty in his first pitstop.
The German was found guilty by the stewards of causing an avoidable collision on the opening lap, when he momentarily lost control of his Force India over the kerbs at the exit of turn five and clattered Magnussen.
Like Ricciardo, Vettel was forced to start from the rear of the field due to a technical infringement in qualifying, although the four-time world champion could do no better than 8th place.
Ferrari endured a tough time at Abu Dhabi with Fernando Alonso leading Kimi Raikkonen him to 9th and 10th place finishes during what could be best described as anonymous events.
Outside the points, Magnussen ended the day 11th, with the Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) just behind in 12th.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean led the charge of the lapped cars in 13th. The Frenchman’s miserable season ended with just the hobbling Rosberg (14th), , Sauber duo Esteban Gutierrez (15th) and Adrian Sutil (16th) behind, while Caterham’s one-off driver Will Stevens rounded out the rear of the field.
The other Caterham of Kamui Kobayashi retired from what might be his last Grand Prix thirteen laps from the end. He went further than Pastor Maldonado – who Lotus machine caught fire in spectacular style – and Daniil Kvyat – who Toro Rosso ground to a halt with a suspected electrical failure after only thirteen laps.