Five things we learned from Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Written by Chris Winterburn
It was the stylish end to the season that many had desired, albeit there was a distinct lack of competition at the front of the grid as Abu Dhabi played host to the final race of what has been a wonderful 2019 season, full of surprising performances and impressive drives.
Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag to add race win number 84 to his collection, however it proved to be an easy evening’s work for him as Aston Martin Red Bull Racing were never fully able to put together the speed to challenge him, with Max Verstappen finishing a mammoth 16.772 seconds behind him.
With the season at an end, the Abu Dhabi GP didn’t necessarily teach us anything that we didn’t expect prior to the race weekend, but it did give us some idea of where teams will look to place themselves in 2020.
1, Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow are just happy for the campaign to end
There have been times in 2019 where it looked as though Ferrari had once again got everything right and in place for a serious title charge, if not in 2019 itself then certainly in 2020. However, the final few race weekends of the season have proven damaging for the Italian team, which controversy even following them to the Middle East.
If it wasn’t the Red Bull criticism that they had been breaking rules in order to increase their straight-line speed, then it was their two drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, failing to find a way to work as a coherent team and crashing into each other in Brazil, taking both off the track and out of the points.
What followed in Abu Dhabi was another problem, as the team was placed under investigation after a discrepancy was found with their fuel declaration. The FIA claimed they found ‘a significant difference’ between the fuel amount Ferrari had declared before the race and what was found in the car.
Ferrari were fined 50,000 euros for a 4.88kg difference between their declaration and the real measurement, and it once again put the historic team into a bad light.
Mattia Binotto has been left exasperated by goings on in recent weeks and looked ready for the season to reach its end, even though Leclerc did manage a respectable third place finish, despite sensationally failing to reach the line in time in Q3 in order to put in one last hot-lap to perhaps clinch pole position.
2, Sergio Perez is back to his best
Racing Point SportPesa have been the surprise package of the 2019 season, which few expecting the team to gain as many points as they have in their debut year in the sport.
Whilst the transition from Force India was relatively straight forward, the team still had the hurdles of putting a team together and then forming a technical strategy which could work from race-to-race.
It’s telling that as the 2019 season drew to a close, the Racing Point cars were often amongst the fastest in race conditions, with the promise that by 2020 they would be even faster leading many fans to be excited.
Such excitement is only further increased when you look at the form Sergio Perez has been in. He finished seventh in Abu Dhabi, taking six points, but his driving is as good as it’s ever been.
His spell with McLaren was supposed to be his big moment, but it didn’t work out, however he has since found a home with his current employers.
His brave style of racing his been supplemented by a strong strategy and with the team expecting more from their 2020 campaign, the Mexican could well be the beneficiary of an even better year next time around.
3, Fernando Alonso will not be back in 2020 as McLaren find consistency
I’ve spoke about McLaren rediscovering their mojo in recent weeks, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix showed nothing to the contrary as Lando Norris raced excellent to finish eighth, whilst Carlos Sainz Jr was in tenth as the team secured a double-points finish yet again.
However, whilst the success continued a bright run of form for the team, it also put a rubber stamp on something we already suspected, and that is the fact that Fernando Alonso will not be returning to Formula 1 in 2020.
Despite the Spaniard having mooted his openness to a return sooner than expected, he himself confirmed that his one-year hiatus would become a two-year absence from the sport in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
“I will definitely do Indy, let’s see how the next weeks unfold,” Alonso explained in an interview with BBC Sport. “Indy is the only one missing, definitely I will try again. After that, I will see if I’m missing F1, this year it was nice to be out of the F1 bubble, but it’s still a possibility, the 2021 rules are quite interesting, maybe if it turns out I miss it, then I will be open to coming back in 2021.”
4, Lewis Hamilton is incredibly comfortable at this moment
Whilst there was little to battle for at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday, it was the comfortable manner in which Hamilton went about his task which should serve as a warning to Max Verstappen ahead of 2020.
Whilst the neutrals both want and expect there to be a battle for the ages between the pair for the Drivers’ championship next year, it’s difficult to remember a time when Hamilton has appeared as relaxed and comfortable in his own sphere.
He isn’t directly battling teammate with whom he has a competitive rivalry as was the case with Nico Rosberg, and he seems to be enjoying driving. When Hamilton is this relaxed, he tends to produce his best driving, and that is something Verstappen has to be aware of heading into Melbourne.
5, Nico Hulkenberg will be missed by F1
Whilst there was a lot to be positive about during Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, one sad note was that it marked the official end of Nico Hulkenberg’s career in the sport.
Having been part of the Williams driver system way before his F1 debut in 2010, the German has long been affiliated with racing, and 2019 appears like it will be his last season at the top.
Whilst never being on the podium during his nine-year F1 career, Hulkenberg was incredibly reliable and a steady driver, with his professionalism admirable. You have to remember that like heavyweight boxing, you only really get a few chances to make mistakes in F1 and then you’re out.
Paul Di Resta can attest to that, whilst Pierre Gasly was given hardly any time in his drive with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing.
Respect must be given to Hulkenberg and I wish him the best in his future endeavours, the sport will be less without him in the paddock, yet Renault now have the chance to find another promising partner for Daniel Ricciardo as they look to bounce back in style in 2020.