If you’re ever been to an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the immaculately-presented Yas Marina Circuit, you’ll no doubt be aware that the event carries all the hallmarks of one giant afterparty.
So it proved again in 2019, with both championships already decided prior to Sunday’s final act, but it didn’t stop Lewis Hamilton rewriting the record books yet again, with victory capping his sixth world championship-winning year in the sport.
Hamilton was competing in his 250th Grand Prix this weekend, which in itself is not unique – eight drivers have previously reached that milestone – but in Lewis’ case, all 250 have come consecutively, without a single did-not-start or a single race missed due to other reasons. Nobody has ever previously started so many Grands Prix without an absence.
It was fitting, and not exactly surprising, that he started it from pole position. This weekend saw his 88th career pole position, putting him 20 (twenty!) clear of the previously-untouchable Michael Schumacher. With a perfectly executed race, Hamilton led from lights-to-flag for the 19th time, equaling the all-time F1 record held by Ayrton Senna since the last time the Brazilian led every lap of a race in the truncated 1991 Australian GP.
As if that weren’t enough, it was Hamilton’s 50th career victory when starting from pole (never previously achieved), and his sixth “grand slam” victory, converting pole into a win while leading every lap AND setting the fastest lap. This now puts him 2nd on the all-time list behind one of the longest standing records still remaining in F1 , with Jim Clark (8) having held the record since the 1965 German GP.
Abu Dhabi 2019 was also Hamilton’s 33rd consecutive points finish, tying the F1 record in that category with…. Lewis Hamilton, who also scored 33 in a row between Japan 2016 and France 2018.
Previous editions of this column have noted that but for his retirement with nine laps left at the 2018 Austrian GP, Hamilton would now have an utterly staggering 67 consecutive points finishes. Bear in mind that the next-longest points streak is Kimi Raikkonen’s run of 27 in a row in 2012-13, and you get a full appreciation of what Mercedes and Hamilton are now achieving. It’s not just that they’re superior on pace, but also on reliability and execution, week-to-week.
Oh by the way, this was Hamilton’s 11th win of 2019, tying his highest single season totals from 2014 and 2018, although his 413 points make this the most successful year of his F1 career…. and that’s a category with some pretty serious competition!
And now, the rest of the day’s news….
Max Verstappen enjoyed the finest season of his career in 2019, in Red Bull’s first year of Honda power. The Dutchman posted career bests in wins (3), poles (2) and points (278), and second place at Yas Marina was his best-ever Abu Dhabi GP result, following on from third place in last year’s edition. Even with a record like that, Mercedes’ vice-like grip on Abu Dhabi’s recent history means Verstappen is still yet to lead a lap at Yas Marina!
Verstappen also clinched a career-best third in the world championship by beating Charles Leclerc in Sunday’s race, and Ferrari continue to be completely baffled by this venue. In 11 runnings of the Abu Dhabi GP, the Scuderia have scored zero front row starts, zero wins, and have only led 11 laps ever! This stands as their worst record on any F1 circuit at which they’ve appeared at least this many times.
Although Leclerc did end a four-race streak without a podium finish, but he still crossed the line 43 seconds adrift of the dominant Hamilton, which at least means Ferrari ended the season better than they started it (when they were tonked by 57 seconds in Melbourne).
On a personal note, Leclerc beat his teammate Sebastian Vettel in the qualifying head-to-head and in the championship overall in his first year at Ferrari. His German teammate was only fifth in Yas Marina, having been passed by Valtteri Bottas, who finished fourth from dead last on the grid, something that now puts an inconvenient asterisk in the record books.
Qualifying had seen Mercedes finish 1-2 in Q3 for the sixth consecutive year at Yas Marina, which extended their existing all-time F1 record for the longest streak without being beaten by any other car in qualifying at a single venue. Alas, Bottas’ power unit penalty means that it was not a front row lockout, which means this is guaranteed to trip over some statisticians in years to come….
Alexander Albon goes into the winter having finished sixth or better in 8 of his 9 races for Red Bull, the sole exception coming when he was harpooned by Lewis Hamilton with barely a lap to go at Interlagos, costing him a first career podium.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez can feel similarly positive heading into the winter, as the Mexican driver extended his run of top ten finishes at Yas Marina to 7 consecutive years.
Of more immediate note, he ended 2019 with a run of 6 points finishes in a row, the longest by any driver other than the ubitquitous Hamilton. After enduring a tough first half of the year, Perez scored 75% of all his points this season after the summer break.
Speaking of points finishes, Lando Norris put his McLaren into the scoring column for the 11th time in his rookie season, scoring in more than half the races and playing a significant role in McLaren’s best year since 2012, returning to the top four in the Constructors’ Championship and underscoring their “best of the rest” position.
Norris’ result – including a tragi-comedic radio exchange with departing engineer Andrew Jarvis – was certainly more noticeable on Sunday, but it Carlos Sainz’s 10th place finish which had a much greater effect in the final reckoning.
Sainz spent more than half of Sunday’s race outside the points, but he managed to pass Nico Hulkenberg on the final lap to snatch the final point – a point that gave him 6th place in the Drivers’ Championship.
Such a result seemed to be unlikely given that his principal rivals for that place were a driver who drove the first half of the season at Red Bull (Pierre Gasly) and a driver who drove the second half of the season at Red Bull (Alex Albon). Given that Sainz himself is product of Red Bull’s junior stables, it had to cause pause for thought during Helmut Marko’s post-race cup of coffee….
That last lap pass denied Nico Hulkenberg a point in his last race for Renault, his 177th and possibly final career start. The German arrived on the scene in 2010 having won the GP2 Series title as a rookie in the previous year, emulating the similar achievements of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
While both of those drivers went on to become world champion, Hulkenberg may spend the rest of his life being reminded that he never scored a podium finish. It provides a cursory reminder that talent is not the single determinant of success at the top level.
As the chequered flag was displayed on Sunday night, it flew not just for the Abu Dhabi GP but also for Formula 1 in the 2010s. Nine of the ten world titles in this decade were won by just two drivers, with Nico Rosberg (2016) being the only driver to break the hegemony of Sebastian Vettel’s four in a row with Red Bull (2010-13), and Lewis Hamilton’s dominance during the Mercedes hybrid era (2014-15, 2017-19).
Ten years ago, Michael Schumacher held every major success record in Grand Prix racing, with his seven world titles and 91 race wins looking untouchable. Lewis Hamilton will now go into 2020 with a chance to equal both.