Abu Dhabi - Stat Wrap
By Sean Kelly
C4F1's Virtual Statman
And that’s a (stat) wrap.
Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix concluded Formula 1’s shortest campaign since 1966. Just 161 days separated the opener in Austria and the finale at Yas Marina, during which time there were 17 Grands Prix.
The numbers above might be the most important statistics of the season, as by finding a way to make the championship take place amid a pandemic, the FIA and F1 themselves were able to safeguard potentially thousands of jobs in and around the motorsport industry. Nobody would describe the working conditions of 2020 as ideal, but the sport has lived to fight another day.
It was a year in which Lewis Hamilton won the championship by the largest margin of any of his seven world titles, and he didn’t even compete in every race! Even after calling in sick for the Sakhir GP, Hamilton still managed to coast to glory by 124 points.
Throughout the hybrid era, the sight of a Mercedes win from pole at the season finale at Yas Marina had been a mere formality, so Max Verstappen’s win in the dead rubber event was a refreshing change. The Dutchman claimed what was surprisingly only his third career pole on Saturday night, and then became the sixth consecutive polesitter to win in Abu Dhabi.
Verstappen’s 11th podium finish of the 2020 season matches his best-ever total from the 2018 season, which was set in a season four races longer than this one. Verstappen led from start-to-finish for just the second time in his career, and as he crossed the line he thought he had scored a first “grand slam” win (victory from pole, leading start to finish and setting the fastest lap), only to see friend and former teammate Daniel Ricciardo nick the fastest lap moments later by 0.032s.
Even so, a lights-to-flag win by a Red Bull driver saw Mercedes’ record-breaking streak of leading a lap in 39 consecutive races come to an end on Sunday evening. It was a rare race in which they were convincingly second-best, but Valtteri Bottas was still able to confirm the runner-up position in the Drivers’ Championship with a podium finish…. and it certainly won’t have hurt that he beat Lewis Hamilton in both qualifying and the race.
On his return from illness and with the title long assured, Hamilton could perhaps be forgiven for being slightly out-of-sorts just this once, and after a season in which he broke so many records he ended the year just 12 laps short of Michael Schumacher’s 5,111 laps led.
Verstappen, Bottas and Hamilton shared the podium for the eighth time this season in Abu Dhabi, and the 13th time overall. They are now just one short of the most recurring podium trio in F1 history, as Hamilton shared a rostrum with Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel on 14 prior occasions.
If you followed social media during the race you will have noticed more than a few people grousing about the lack of overtaking at the front, and this has become an unfortunate trend of the Yas Marina Circuit. The drivers starting 1-2-3 on the grid finished the race in the same order for the second successive Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and the fourth time in the last six years. Perhaps it was more apparent in a year when there were no yacht parties to distract wandering minds.…
As has become the norm throughout 2020, Alex Albon’s Red Bull could not match the pace set by his prodigious teammate, but he once again kept it between the barriers to finish fourth, and ended 2020 having scored in as many races as Verstappen (12 each). Red Bull were the Constructors’ Championship runners-up for the first time since 2016, although their 319 points were still fewer than the 347 scored by Lewis Hamilton on his own!
P1, YES BOYS 💪 A simply lovely race 🏆 🍾 This was the perfect way to end the 2020 championship. Thanks a lot, @redbullracing and @HondaRacingF1, and of course all fans 🙌 #AbuDhabiGP 🇦🇪 pic.twitter.com/84Y3Xwp2uI— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) December 13, 2020
Third in the Constructors’ Championship had been in the balance coming into the weekend, with Racing Point enjoying a precarious lead over McLaren and Renault. Having experienced the best moment in their brief history at the Sakhir GP seven days earlier, Racing Point endured heartbreak in Abu Dhabi as Sergio Perez’ car failed in the early stages, while Lance Stroll could only manage a below-par tenth place.
This wouldn’t have been relevant had Racing Point not been penalized 15 points for their brake duct violation after the Styrian GP, but that sanction ended up costing them dearly. With Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz finishing fifth and sixth, it was enough to elevate McLaren to a top three finish in the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since Lewis Hamilton left the team at the end of 2012.
Arguably, there was an even more exciting stat that emerged from McLaren’s performance this weekend. Qualifying saw Lando Norris manage fourth on the grid, but he was only 0.251s away from pole position. That is the closest a McLaren has been to pole in any race since the final event of the 2012 season, when Hamilton and Jenson Button locked out the front row before Button went on to claim the team’s most recent win to-date, something they have not come close to repeating since their split from Mercedes power units after 2014. They will be reunited next season….
Such performances make Daniel Ricciardo’s early decision to commit to McLaren for 2021 look prescient. The Australian was seventh in Sunday’s race, and not only ended his two-season stint at Renault with an 11-race scoring streak that is his longest in F1 since 2016, but also by pinching the fastest lap bonus from Verstappen on the final lap of the season.
Eighth-placed Pierre Gasly claimed his first-ever points at the Yas Marina circuit to end an impressive season by moving into the top ten in the Drivers’ Championship at the expense of the aforementioned Lance Stroll, but if Stroll felt bad it was nothing compared to his incoming teammate for 2021.
It still seems astonishing to say, but Sebastian Vettel’s season was so bad that he fell 42 points short of a top ten championship finish. After 118 starts for Ferrari – more than he made for Red Bull, and more than any Ferrari driver other than Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher – his year ended with failure to reach Q3 for 13 consecutive races.
Not even the other Ferrari of Charles Leclerc could score points on Sunday, and it made this year an epic failure by the Scuderia’s standards. Sixth in the Constructors’ Championship is their worst performance since 1980, but the effect was magnified because they failed to lead a single lap all season, only the third such occurrence in world championship history, after dismal campaigns in both 1973 and 1992.
Their disappointment was shared by the Williams team, for whom 2020 represented the first pointless campaign in their history, only five years after having finished in the top three in the Constructors’ Championship for a second consecutive year.
While the current global situation means there are no guarantees, the opening race of what is scheduled to be a record-setting 23-race season is just 98 days away.