Valtteri Bottas survived several laps of high-speed pressure from his Mercedes team-mate and world champion Lewis Hamilton to claim a memorable victory in Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 28-year-old Finn, who started from pole position, led from the lights to the flag apart from a spell following his first pit stop when the four-time champion Briton was in control.
It was his third career victory, all of them recorded since he joined Mercedes to partner the 32-year-old Briton in January following the unexpected exit of 2016 champion German Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton came home a comfortable second, four seconds behind Bottas, having eased off in the closing laps after abandoning his bid to pass him in the turbulent air created when following close to another car.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel finished a lonely third for Ferrari, as the two Mercedes men delivered celebratory ‘doughnuts’ for the crowd. It was Vettel’s 99th career podium and his 13th of the season.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen was fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Dutchman Max Verstappen of Red Bull and German Nico Hulkenberg for Renault, whose sixth-place finish assured Renault of sixth place in the constructors’ championship ahead of Toro Rosso.
Mexican Sergio Perez came home seventh ahead of his Force India team-mate Frenchman Esteban Ocon, two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda and retirement-bound Brazilian Felipe Massa, in his last F1 race, for Williams.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who was fourth on the grid, failed to finish after retiring his Red Bull for the third time in four outings. He had a hydraulics problem.
“Such a good car today so thank you for that and the season – it’s a very nice way to end it,” said Bottas to his team.
Hamilton was unhappy with the tight track.
“It’s impossible to pass here man!” he said in the pre-podium room. “I was like — where are all the back-markers… They’ve got to change this track.”
Hamilton ended his season having scored points in every race.
British Formula One legend Jackie Stewart is hoping to witness a fierce battle for the world championship next year after Mercedes ran away with a fourth consecutive title this season, thanks to Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton’s successes in 2014, 2015 and 2017, along with Nico Rosberg’s triumph 12 months ago, have seen the Silver Arrows sustain a four-year stretch of dominance in the sport.
That was preceded by four years of similar reign by Red Bull with their former driver Sebastian Vettel hogging the world title from 2010 to 2013.
While Vettel managed to put some pressure on Hamilton this year in his new and improved Ferrari, the Briton was still able to steer clear of his fellow quadruple world champion. A total of 43 points separate Hamilton from Vettel entering the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
Stewart, a three-time world champion himself, believes the sport needs some stiffer competition at the top.
Asked if he can perhaps imagine next year’s title fight to be a three-horse race instead of Hamilton’s one-man show, Stewart told Sport360: “I hope so. We need to have it more competitive than it’s been this year.
“We’ve had a long run now of domination, whether it be Red Bull and then Mercedes. So it would be nice of course to see Ferrari come back in.
“But Ferrari seem to be sort of peak and valley, they’re not as consistent. But I think, hopefully next year, you never know with Red Bull having a Honda engine next year, that could prove to be quite good. So I hope we’re going to have a more competitive season next year.”
British marque McLaren are one of the most successful teams in the history of F1 but they’ve only won one world title this century – Hamilton’s maiden championship coup was with them in 2008.
The Woking-based team have struggled in recent years, and their partnership with Honda that started in 2015 did not deliver the performance McLaren were hoping for.
Next year, they will be replacing the Honda engine with a Renault one. Does Stewart think this move will pay dividends and push them back to the front of the grid?
“I think it’s not impossible,” said the 78-year-old. “McLaren have a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience. Don’t count them out. They’ve got one of the finest facilities in the world. So I think they can be in good shape.”
While expectations are high from the McLaren team for next season, Cyril Abiteboul, the managing director of Renault Sport Racing, is somewhat reserved when discussing the power they plan on supplying both the British side as well as Red Bull.
“You know I don’t want to make any promises,” Abiteboul said in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
“First thing will be reliability because we’ve seen this season that you need to walk before you run and I think we’ve been on many occasions too aggressive in the way that we were trying to bring performance and extra power to the engine too quickly because of the expectation of all customers including the yellow cars, so I think we need to go step by step: first be reliable then accumulate as many miles as possible during the winter tests – I think it’s important for any chassis organisation.
“I understand, talking about Red Bull, that they changed their philosophy and are planning for the development of their car but if the engine is not reliable it’s going to be useless. So we need to get that.
“And if we have that, I am extremely comfortable and confident that we have the sort of technological bricks to bring to the engine in order to make steps and to catch Mercedes.”
Fernando Alonso has revealed he is still keen on competing in a full World Endurance Championship (WEC) next year but his team McLaren effectively ruled out that possibility in Abu Dhabi.
The two-time Formula One world champion, who last weekend drove a Toyota LMP1 car during a WEC testing experience in Bahrain, has made it clear he wants to pursue the format in 2018.
McLaren are likely to grant Alonso permission to make his debut in the famed Le Mans 24 Hours next year as part of the nine-part WEC series, much like they did back in May, when the 36-year-old skipped the Monte Carlo Grand Prix to partake in the famed Indy500 race.
While it has not yet been confirmed the Spaniard will drive at Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe next June, a full season in WEC looks to be out of the question given potential clashes with his F1 commitments.
“We would need to study the calendars carefully. It would be nice. Probably. I would like it,” said a coy Alonso, when asked about the possibility, during a media debrief at the team’s hospitality villa at Yas Marina Circuit.
Following up on Alonso’s answer, McLaren team boss Eric Boullier said: “First of all, as you yourself pointed out, the calendars still intersect, so he would not be able to do the full season.
“Of course, we all know that Fernando likes to race every weekend. I think 52 weekends a year would not be enough for him.
“We know that one day he wants to race at Le Mans, but we have not received any official requests yet. Nobody has asked us. So I cannot comment on these rumours.”
After a disappointing campaign with McLaren Honda and a ninth-placed finish in the Constructors’ Championship, Alonso is fully focused on the next 12 months which will also see him race in the 2018 Daytona 24 Hours – his first-ever endurance event – for outfit, United Autosports sportscar.
“We didn’t meet the expectations (at McLaren this year) but it’s a good feeling to finish the season – turning the page for the next goal, next target and clearly for next year we have high expectations,” said Alonso.
“Different goals, designing the car (during testing next week) – many things are ongoing that make us quite optimistic and we can concentrate on next year.”
McLaren will end their disastrous tie-up with Honda and will have a Renault engine starting 2018.