2020’s dominant car was beaten “fair and square” by faster Red Bull RB16 in F1’s season finale, acknowledge Mercedes; Lewis Hamilton welcomes late-season gains from world champion’s rivals as “good for the sport”
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 13/12/20 11:25pm
Red Bull hailed Max Verstappen’s “absolutely clinical” performance to dominate Mercedes in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
In a season otherwise dominated by F1’s world champions, Red Bull ensured they finished on a race-winning note – and a surprisingly emphatic one – with just their second victory of 2020.
“That was the best most static race we’ve enjoyed for a long, long time!” remarked a delighted Christian Horner to Sky Sports F1 after Verstappen led every lap and won by 16 seconds from Valtteri Bottas.
“Max all weekend has just been absolutely clinical the way he’s driven. Whatever they had, he had a response to today.”
Why did Red Bull run away with it?
Mercedes’ W11 has been the dominant car of the season with 15 pole positions and 13 wins, clinching the team both world championships for a record-extending seventh year in a row with races to spare.
Yet it was unusually struggling around the floodlit Yas Marina circuit despite the venue having proved a stronghold for the team in the turbo-hybrid engine era. Citing understeer as contributing to a race performance they had expected would be stronger – particularly through turns five-seven – Toto Wolff acknowledged that the Red Bull was simply the quicker car on the day.
“You can see that everybody has weaknesses,” said Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal. “We weren’t on our A game this weekend, that’s simply a fact, and Red Bull won fair and square.”
He also described the result as a “slap on the wrist” from a car that had otherwise shown few weaknesses in the 17-race campaign.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, said: “To be honest, we’d expected a bit more from ourselves today; we thought we’d either have a small advantage on pace or be a bit better on degradation, but we didn’t and it was a bit disappointing after a year where we have been strong at almost every track.”
Mercedes are also thought to have been running their engine more conservatively to protect the car’s MGU-K.
The returning Lewis Hamilton finished third, chasing over the line by the other Red Bull of Alex Albon, and said that, while he “really wasn’t surprised by their pace”, he nonetheless “didn’t know they were going to be 15 seconds ahead”.
“It shows how good their car is,” added Hamilton. “Alex was right behind me and that hasn’t been the case really for most of the year. It shows they’ve made progression, Alex has made progression, and I think that’s really good for the sport.”
Asked why he thought they had won so comfortably, Red Bull’s Horner admitted: “I wish I could explain it! We’ve been chipping away the last few races. Bahrain, Max left there feeling gutted that he had got a really quick race car last weekend and to be taken out really from nothing that he did wrong was tough.
“But he bounced back. His qualifying lap set everything up beautifully and then he just controlled the race. I think it’s the most dominant race, or most straightforward race, he’s done for us.”
But Wolff made clear that the result of 2020’s final act would not overshadow Mercedes – who notably stopped developing the W11 several months ago – being able to reflect on “remarkable success and achievements that will live long in our memories” this season.
Verstappen’s year ends on a high
Along with runaway champion Hamilton, Verstappen has been a star performer throughout the season and his second victory represented his 11th podium finishes from the 12 races he has finished.
But Red Bull’s pre-season hopes of challenging Mercedes for the world championship never materialised and, for all his impressive driving, Verstappen has usually had to settle for third places behind Hamilton and Bottas, especially in qualifying.
Driver and team now hope the performance in Abu Dhabi can provide crucial momentum for 2021 when they will bid to challenge their big rivals more consistently from the first round in Melbourne. Engine suppliers Honda have promised a new engine in their final season in the sport.
“It’s of course always good to finish the season like this,” Verstappen told Sky F1 after his 10th career win in F1.
“The team worked very hard throughout the whole year to try and improve the car and to be able to win that last race is a good boost for everyone and a good motivation for everyone in the team to go into the winter. I hope that we can be competitive from the start next year.”
Horner, who praised the team’s workforce at Milton Keynes, added: “You always want to try and win the last race because it just sets up the winter.”
Source : Sky Sports