Max Verstappen cruised to victory in the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, leading from start to finish and never looking like he was in any serious danger of not taking first place.
The Red Bull driver, who had earlier secured pole position with a blistering final qualifying lap, went into the first corner pursued by second placed Valtteri Bottas, but that was as close as it got. The victor finished 15.9 seconds ahead of his Mercedes rival, who also kept his No 2 slot throughout the entire race.
Under the spotlights blazing down on the track, Verstappen jumped out of his car after re-entering the pits, looking as fresh as if he’d just been taking a stroll round Yas Marina Circuit, rather than charging around it at breakneck speeds in a fast-but-fragile vehicle.
“What a way to close a season - fantastic, mate," a Red Bull engineer said to the victorious driver on the team radio as the car crossed the line.
"After such a busy year, I think everyone was a bit tired at the end, but it is amazing," Verstappen replied.
"It was really enjoyable," the 23-year-old Dutchman said after the race. "We had a good start and we did everything well. Once you get a good start, you can control the pace and it makes your life easier.”
Despite Verstappen’s apparent spriteliness, the season finale marked the end of a tough year for the entire Formula One community, and he indicated that he himself hadn’t found it as easy as it might have appeared.
"I am going to enjoy the podium, and then I am going to enjoy going home," he said.
Radio exchanges between Verstappen and his crew hinted at potential problems with the car as the race progressed, but the issues, whatever they were, were not enough to bring his race to an untimely end.
It was Red Bull's first win in Abu Dhabi since Sebastian Vettel won in 2013 and ended Mercedes' streak of six straight victories in the capital.
This was also the first time Verstappen had managed to lead a race from green lights to final flag. His victory secured him third place in the drivers’ championship.
Lewis Hamilton, who finished third, some 18.4 seconds behind Verstappen, already had the drivers' championship in the bag after victory at the Turkish Grand Prix gave him sufficient points to ensure he was uncatchable, but the Englishman found the weekend's racing tough.
He did not seem 100 per cent fit after testing positive for the coronavirus and spending time in quarantine before he was given the all clear, and said as much on Saturday.
"You cannot win them all,” the Mercedes driver said after the race. “Considering the past couple of weeks I had, I am happy with the weekend. It is not 100 per cent and as good as I would have liked.
"That was a really hard race for me physically. All year, I have been fine, but today I wasn't so I am just glad it is over.
"I didn't think any time last week I would be here, so I am truly grateful for my health and to be alive."
Hamilton’s teammate Bottas was happy with his performance, but acknowledged Verstappen’s superior driving.
"The Red Bull was too quick today,” the Mercedes driver said. “We could not get near them and could not keep up with them, but it was a solid race from my side."
The Finn’s second placing sees him retain that very position in the drivers’ championship.
There was also jubilation and much air-punching in the McLaren camp after the drivers, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, secured third place in the constructors’ championship for the team after they finished fifth and sixth respectively.
A solid drive saw Alex Albon take fourth spot in the second Red Bull, just 1.5 seconds behind Hamilton, while Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, in his last race for the team before replacing Sainz at McLaren, came in seventh. The Australian’s teammate Esteban Ocon was ninth in the standings. For his part, Ricciardo finished fifth in this year’s drivers’ championship.
The race top 10 was rounded out by Scuderia AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly who finished eighth, and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll, who secured a spot at the tail end of the first half of the final results.
Sergio Perez, who confounded all expectations to win the Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain a week ago, was unlucky today as he was forced to retire on lap 10 due to engine failure.
The race was briefly held up after the incident occurred and the safety car had to come out. Perez was the only driver not to finish in Abu Dhabi. However, he still managed to finish fourth in the drivers’ championship.