By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
Contrary to what TV pictures may have suggested, Will Smith did NOT win the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Instead it was Lewis Hamilton who was crowned the Fresh Prince of Yas Marina (groan), capping his fifth championship-winning season with victory in the finale on Formula One’s most expensive circuit.
With the titles already in the bag, it may have seemed that Mercedes were racing for nothing but pride this weekend, but in fact they had a significant F1 milestone to provide motivation.
Coming into the weekend, no team in F1 history had ever scored five consecutive front-row lockouts on any racetrack, and in the 100th race of the turbo hybrid era Mercedes duly delivered a 1-2 on the grid. No other team has had a car on the front row at Yas Marina since the V6 turbos became regulation at the start of 2014.
We were treated to a terrific conclusion to the 2018 season, with an almost endless supply of action in the final race— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 25, 2018
If you somehow managed to miss the #AbuDhabiGP, you can catch every twist, turn and flip in 463 seconds with our rewind #C4F1 https://t.co/Y0YEQFTPVn
Furthermore, Mercedes were also pursuing the chance to be the first team to score four consecutive 1-2 finishes on any racetrack. Although they fell short on this count, it won’t take the gloss off a sensational season by their lead driver.
Hamilton claimed his 11th win of 2018 on Sunday, matching his previous best total set in 2014 (admittedly, that year had two fewer races). His 17th podium of this season also matched career-bests from 2015 and 2016.
Victory also broke Sebastian Vettel’s single-season points record of 397 (set in 2013) and made Hamilton the first driver to exceed 400 points in a year – although with the caveat that the current points format was only adopted in 2010.
Actor Smith may have been part of Hamilton’s entourage on race day, but even the presence of Hollywood A-listers don’t seem to affect his A-game.
Ferrari have had their most successful year since 2008, but a season in which they fell frustratingly short of both titles, so it was perhaps fitting that they also had a frustrating time at Yas Marina, which has become the Scuderia’s ultimate bogey track.
The mega-architecture of Yas Island includes the 86,000-square-metre Ferrari World theme park, so it is a little embarrassing that in 10 Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, Ferrari are yet to win or even qualify on the front row. There is no other circuit in F1 history where they’ve appeared so many times without achieving either feat.
Vettel finished the year with second place, matching Ferrari’s best on this track, and matching his final overall position. He is the championship runner-up for the third time in his career, matching Graham Hill, Nigel Mansell and Fernando Alonso.
They are one short of the record held jointly by Sir Stirling Moss (who never won the title) and Alain Prost (level with the German on four titles).
Lewis Hamilton has been relatively unstoppable during the hybrid-era, but EJ believes a certain Dutchman could challenge him providing he has the ability in the coming years— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 24, 2018
Let's not forget Ferrari's newest recruit either #C4F1 #AbuDhabiGPhttps://t.co/OZMdyBXEbX
For the second year running Max Verstappen enjoyed a strong season run-in, and capped the season with his fifth consecutive podium finish – further extending what was already the best run of his career. Third place was enough to pip Valtteri Bottas to fourth in the championship, as the Dutchman officially enjoyed the best season of his career.
That said, he will now never own the “youngest pole-sitter” record that seemed all-but-assured ever since his Red Bull debut in Barcelona back in 2016. By the time F1 reconvenes in 2019, Verstappen will be older than Vettel was when he started from pole at the 2008 Italian GP aged 21 years 73 days.
He could at least toast Red Bull’s first Abu Dhabi podium in the turbo hybrid era, although he denied Daniel Ricciardo what would have been a farewell podium finish in his 100th and final start for the team.
It's been a relationship with lots of ups and downs, but this is Ricciardo's final race for Red Bull— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 24, 2018
Next season the 'Honey Badger' will be wearing black and yellow as he switches to Renault
Here he is talking to @LeeMcKenzieTV #C4F1 https://t.co/8RGlyHeV4u
Ricciardo somehow managed to finish fourth on no fewer than seven occasions this year, along with wins in China and Monaco. This gives him the exceptionally rare distinction of being a driver with multiple race victories in a season without ever finishing second or third.
This was once commonplace – it happened 12 times in the first 20 years of world championship history – but the last occurrence was when Jochen Rindt took five wins on his way to posthumously winning the title in 1970.
Incidentally, Jacques Villeneuve came within five corners of joining that category in 1997, but after seven wins that year he yielded first and second places to the McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard on the last lap of the final race, finishing third to clinch the championship.
Valtteri Bottas will already be hoping for a much more competitive 2019 season, after the Finn failed to pick up a victory all season— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 25, 2018
Mark was insistent that Bottas needs to show more aggression in the future #C4F1 #AbuDhabiGP https://t.co/ShyFdgnOGR
If Ferrari and Red Bull had frustrating seasons, the same can be said for Bottas after enduring the first winless year for any Mercedes driver since Michael Schumacher’s swansong in 2012.
Bottas, who was fifth on Sunday after qualifying second, set a new F1 record by finishing P2 on seven occasions without ever winning, surpassing a mark held by Francois Cevert since 1973. Both drivers’ team-mates won the title (Cevert was partnered with Sir Jackie Stewart at Tyrrell).
McLaren-bound Carlos Sainz ended his tenure at Renault on a positive note by scoring his first Abu Dhabi points in sixth place. He fell just short of a career-best season, as he required P5 to exceed his 2017 points total of 54.
It did, however, push the Spaniard into 10th place in the drivers’ standings, above his idol Fernando Alonso, as Renault ended up a comfortable fourth in the constructors' table – having been sixth last year and ninth in 2016.
After 21 thrilling races Lewis Hamilton has become the first driver to surpass 400 points in one season— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 25, 2018
Meanwhile team-mate Valtteri Bottas lost a position in the final race to Max Verstappen, ultimately ending the season P5 overall ⬇️#C4F1 #AbuDhabiGP pic.twitter.com/mPjemyJQLy
Behind him was another man on the move this winter, as Charles Leclerc finished seventh in his last race for Sauber. The Monegasque heads for Ferrari after his 10th points finish of 2018, leaving him 13th overall.
Leclerc’s Abu Dhabi pace meant that Sauber threatened Force India’s seventh place in the constructors’ championship, but P8 for Sergio Perez kept the UK-based team – who survived a protest from Haas and losing all of their points from the first half of the season – in that position on the final day.
Speaking of Haas, the American team had never previously scored points in Abu Dhabi, so a double helping of points to end the year was a step up and consolidated fifth place overall.
Romain Grosjean was ninth and Kevin Magnussen 10th to end the team’s best F1 season so far, although they fell just a single point short of being able to say they doubled their total from 2017.
It's almost compulsory for the drivers to complete donuts at the end of the race in Abu Dhabi now— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 25, 2018
It was a special end to the race as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were joined in their celebrations by Fernando Alonso #C4F1 #AbuDhabiGPhttps://t.co/5KkawNRJbs
Sunday was most likely Alonso’s final grand prix start, and few 11th-place finishes will have been more high-profile in F1 history.
He had certainly become used to finishing there in recent times. In his first 13 seasons in F1 Alonso placed 11th in just five races, but he’s done so eight times since rejoining McLaren in 2015, partially highlighting his decision to stop.
Alonso departs F1 having raced the longest distance in F1 history, at 52,099 miles. The Spaniard has driven more than two laps around the Earth purely in grand prix races, or 20% of the way to the moon. Not enough to break the Earth’s gravitational pull, but impressive nonetheless.
McLaren’s struggles this year were perhaps only surpassed by those of their old rivals Williams. With Lance Stroll their top finisher in 13th place on Sunday, Williams were condemned to finish last in the constructors’ championship for the first time in their history.
Surely the only way is up next season for two teams that account for 296 grands prix wins.
Kimi Raikkonen’s final start for Ferrari ended early, with the Finn’s car shutting down after only six laps. Not a great time to suffer Ferrari’s first retirement at the Yas Marina circuit, but Raikkonen departs the team as their last champion, their last pole-sitter AND their last race-winner.
#ICYMI— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 25, 2018
It was a very explosive opening lap for Hulkenberg in particular, as he was tipped into a frightening barrel-roll after contact with Grosjean
Thankfully Hulkenberg was unharmed, despite landing in the barriers #C4F1 #AbuDhabiGPhttps://t.co/3sWzpBh6Tj
Nico Hulkenberg also had reasons to smile despite being dumped upside down into the barriers (and partially on-fire) by a lap-one collision with Romain Grosjean.
The Hulk still finished seventh in the championship, his best year in F1 and the winner of the ‘best of the rest’ title – although that may not have been on his mind when he described himself as “hanging like a cow” after his spectacular shunt.
Only 20 men were able to call themselves F1 drivers in 2018, the fewest in any season in history.
It was also the first year in which the entry list at the final race matched the entry list from the opening race, highlighting the remarkable stability inherent in the sport right now.
With an unprecedented amount of driver moves coming, perhaps the turbo-hybrid hegemony of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will finally be broken in 2019…
That's a wrap!— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 25, 2018
Steve: "Who knows what will happen in 2019. Guys, it’s been an absolute honour. Formula 1, it’s a hell of a sport!"
Thank you to everyone for their support throughout the season, we'll see you in Melbourne next March #C4F1 pic.twitter.com/K2ovrluQjP