Verstappen took pole by a tenth ahead of Vettel despite a huge wobble on the exit of Pinheirinho, a left-hander in the middle of the lap. He then improved by a tenth to take his first pole since Budapest in August.
Verstappen’s pole lap, a 1:07.508, was a tenth of a second faster than Vettel in the powerful Ferrari, with Hamilton just missing out on a front row. Leclerc finished the session two tenths off the pace in fourth place but would start the race fourteenth because of an engine change.
The Dutchman lost out early on in the race, but with five laps to go, the two Ferrari’s collided fighting for the lead giving Verstappen the lead under the safety car. On the restart, Hamilton set after Albon, they made contact which Albon spinning the Red Bull around. The champion was later awarded a penalty.
There was another sign that things were pressurised at Ferrari, Leclerc got passed Vettel into the Senna S before the German forced the furious youngster into retirement, while Vettel blamed Leclerc picked up a right-rear puncture. That triggered at a safety car under which Hamilton dived into the pits yet again.
Sainz came from the back of the grid to finish fourth, gaining third from Hamilton.
Gasly has one of his best races of the season, starting sixth he had driven through the dramas at Ferrari and the Hamilton/Albon incident to take his first podium since Bahrain 2017. But like in Mexico it was Verstappen who came through to take the victory.
Arguably the race was one of utter chaos, that also helped Sainz come from the back to fourth, he finished on the podium for the first time in his career.
Drivers – 1) Hamilton 387, 2) Bottas 314, 3) Verstappen 260
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 701, 2) Ferrari 479, 3) Red Bull 391
Hamilton and Bottas maintained Mercedes status as the team to beat in Abu Dhabi locking out the front row. Hamilton improved by a few hundredths off that time on the second run to post a 34.779, to consolidate his position at the top of the timesheets.
Verstappen started alongside the six-time champion, thanks to a back-of-the-grid penalty for power unit changes for Bottas. Leclerc accused teammate Vettel of holding him up on his final run in Q3, the team admitted they had “screwed up” as they tried to maximise track conditions.
Norris won a very tight battle with engine supplier Renault to put his McLaren seventh. He was two-hundredths faster than Ricciardo, who himself was just three-hundredths ahead of the second McLaren of Sainz.
Hamilton continued his strong weekend to build a sixteen second lead over his teammate Bottas by the end of the race. Despite being champion he hadn’t taken victory since Budapest, and he took a sixth career Grand Slam, with Hamilton untouchable when it mattered all weekend.
Verstappen also delivered a strong race, despite losing out early on to Leclerc a long first stint proved key and a bold move allowed him to gain second later in the race.
Leclerc tried to go late on the brakes around the outside at the end of the straight but was able to hold him off. That then allowed the Dutchman to follow Hamilton into the sunset a take second by twenty-six seconds.
It was an interesting battle between Red Bull and Ferrari, Leclerc tried to undercut Verstappen on lap twelve. But the Dutchman emerged ahead of him. Leclerc made a second stop after regaining the position on lap thirty, but Verstappen retook the position.
An extremely good race from Bottas could see him take third as Leclerc went into the race with an investigation over him for a “significant” pre-race fuel declaration discrepancy.
Drivers – 1) Hamilton 413, 2) Bottas 326, 3) Verstappen 285
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 739, 2) Ferrari 504, 3) Red Bull 417
2019 didn’t turn out how we expected, Mercedes were still performing at the high level we expected. Ferrari failed to get that speed shown in Barcelona testing until Belgium, but it was the story of the rookies who provided the drama. Leclerc has to be the stand out performer beating Vettel on many occasions.
The new generation of drivers coming through shows that when Mercedes fall there are drivers they are ready to pick up the mantle. Can we see a closer championship next year before the regulation changes? The racing was good across the midfield.
The chance of equalling Michael Schumacher has to be Hamilton’s next challenge in 2020…