Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton ended this epic Formula 1 season by dominating the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which featured a dramatic first-lap crash for Nico Hulkenberg.
Hamilton ran the longest second stint of any driver after pitting under an early virtual safety car period, but he remained comfortably clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to the flag.
Max Verstappen overcame an early engine scare and resisted his charging Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo to finish third and deny the honey badger a podium on his final race for the team before switching to Renault next season.
Hamilton held his advantage from pole but the race was neutralised after only half a lap thanks to Hulkenberg’s accident.
The Renault driver attacked Romain Grosjean into Turn 9, the left-hander at the end of the first long back straight, but Grosjean hung on around the outside as he was forced to the edge of the track.
Hulkenberg turned in to the apex of the right-hander that immediately follows and was hit Grosjean’s front-left, which pitched the Renault into a barrel roll.
It came to a rest upside down against the outside barrier, briefly caught fire, and the unhurt Hulkenberg had to wait for trackside staff to arrive and reposition the car before he could extract himself.
Hamilton nailed the restart at the end of the fourth lap to lead team-mate Valtteri Bottas by more than a second over the line.
The leader stopped early, on lap seven of 55, when Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari switched off exiting the final corner and stopped on the start-finish line, sparking a virtual safety car.
Bottas and Vettel stayed out, with only Charles Leclerc – running a stunning fourth after jumping both Red Bulls on the opening lap and passing Raikkonen’s ailing Ferrari – and seventh-place man Romain Grosjean following Hamilton into the pits.
Bottas, Vettel and Ricciardo extended their stint on ultrasofts and Verstappen tried to make his hypersofts last as long as possible.
Ricciardo and Verstappen were given engine warnings early on by Red Bull but these passed and were traced to “unexpected power unit protection”, suggesting a failsafe had briefly been erroneously activated.
Bottas pitted nine laps after Hamilton and rejoined nine seconds adrift, and although Hamilton complained about his tyres, he was able to maintained a relatively comfortable gap.
Hamilton was still six seconds or so clear of Bottas when his team-mate lost his grip on second place thanks to some problems under braking.
A lock up at Turn 5 and then the end of the first long back straight allowed Vettel to steal second on lap 35, and then three laps later a smaller mistake at the same place let Verstappen get a run on Bottas down the second back straight and pass him – with a bit of wheel bumping – through the little chicane that follows.
One lap later Bottas lost another place to Ricciardo, who had led for a while thanks to extending his first stint to lap 33, and Mercedes decided to pit Bottas for fresh tyres after spotting a possible problem after the Verstappen contact.
Though Bottas’s troubles freed up Vettel to attack Hamilton, and hack the gap down to 2.5 seconds at the flag, he never got close enough to trouble the leader.
Victory was Hamilton’s eleventh of the season, matching his best-ever haul from a single campaign.
By keeping Ricciardo at bay for third, Verstappen was able to nick ahead of Bottas for fourth in the drivers’ championship.
Bottas finished his winless season with a distant fifth, ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr.
Sainz ended his time with Renault with a best-of-the-rest victory earned by virtue of a long first stint, that allowed him to overhaul Leclerc’s Sauber.
Leclerc had to survive pressure from Racing Point Force India driver Sergio Perez to hold onto seventh, while Haas duo Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen completed the top ten.
Fernando Alonso finished just outside the top ten on his likely final Formula 1 appearance, despite picking up two five-second penalties late on for a track limits offence when he cut the chicane at the end of the first backstraight.
Three drivers joined Hulkenberg and Raikkonen in not making it to the finish.
Marcus Ericsson’s stint with Sauber ended in retirement after running in the points early on, before Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly retired within two laps of each other with smoke coming from their respective cars.
And so ends Formula 1 2018. It has been an epic season full of drama and excitement. Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes ending the season on a high with victory.
As for Fernando Alonso, thanks for the memories. It won’t be the same without the double title winner on the grid next season.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 55 1h39m40.382s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 55 2.581s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 55 12.706s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 55 15.379s
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 55 47.957s
6 Carlos Sainz Renault 55 1m12.548s
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 55 1m30.789s
8 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 55 1m31.275s
9 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 54 1 Lap
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 54 1 Lap
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 54 1 Lap
12 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 54 1 Lap
13 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 54 1 Lap
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 54 1 Lap
15 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 54 1 Lap
– Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 46 Retirement
– Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 44 Retirement
– Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 24 Retirement
– Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 6 Retirement
– Nico Hulkenberg Renault 0 Collision
1 Lewis Hamilton 408
2 Sebastian Vettel 320
3 Kimi Raikkonen 251
4 Max Verstappen 249
5 Valtteri Bottas 247
6 Daniel Ricciardo 170
7 Nico Hulkenberg 69
8 Sergio Perez 62
9 Kevin Magnussen 56
10 Carlos Sainz 53
11 Fernando Alonso 50
12 Esteban Ocon 49
13 Charles Leclerc 39
14 Romain Grosjean 37
15 Pierre Gasly 29
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 12
17 Marcus Ericsson 9
18 Lance Stroll 6
19 Brendon Hartley 4
20 Sergey Sirotkin 1
1 Mercedes 655
2 Ferrari 571
3 Red Bull-Renault 419
4 Renault 122
5 Haas-Ferrari 93
6 McLaren-Renault 62
7 Force India-Mercedes 52
8 Sauber-Ferrari 48
9 Toro Rosso-Honda 33
10 Williams-Mercedes 7