Motor racing: Verstappen wins season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Red Bull's Max Verstappen raising the winner's trophy on the podium after the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix. PHOTO: AFP

ABU DHABI – Double world champion Max Verstappen signed off on a dominant Formula One campaign with a record-extending 15th win of the year in Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as Charles Leclerc secured second spot in the overall standings.

The Dutchman, who wrapped up the title in October in Japan with four races to spare, was unchallenged as he led from pole position to chequered flag.

Said Verstappen: “It was all about tyre management. I think we looked after the mediums quite well and then on the hard tyres, managing until the end. Incredible to win again here. A 15th win of the season is unbelievable.”

He crossed the line 8.7 seconds ahead of Leclerc, who, having made just one stop, held on to second place ahead of Verstappen’s two-stop teammate Sergio Perez to edge out the Mexican in the battle for second.

Said the Monegasque: “I was 100 per cent sure we could do it. We had a perfect race for us. I knew the only way to beat Checo was with tyre management and strategy, we had a one stop and it really worked... I really hope next year we can do a step forward in the championship... We will push on in the winter break to catch Red Bull.”

The pair had gone into the race level on points with Leclerc ahead on a countback of wins.

Sunday’s victory was the 35th of Verstappen’s career and second in a row at the Yas Marina track.

However, unlike last season, it was straightforward and without controversy.

Carlos Sainz was fourth for Ferrari, ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, who served a five-second time penalty for an unsafe release from his pit stop.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton saw his hopes of winning a race every season since his debut dashed by a hydraulics failure. The Briton pulled into the pits and retired three laps from the end.

Sebastian Vettel scored his final point with 10th place on what was an emotional swansong for the Aston Martin driver.

“A big day, thank you for all the support and the smiling faces. I’m sure I’m going to miss more than I can imagine,” said the German, who heads into retirement with four drivers’ world titles, 53 race wins and 57 pole positions.

Said the 35-year-old: “I feel a bit empty, it’s been a big weekend. The last two years have been disappointing but there are more important things in life. It’s a huge privilege to be in the position I’m in.”

He signed off with some tyre-smoking doughnuts on the start-finish straight.

Daniel Ricciardo took points in his last race for McLaren with a ninth-placed finish.

Fernando Alonso, replacing Vettel at Aston Martin next year, failed to complete his last race for Alpine.

Mick Schumacher, out of a drive next season after being replaced by Nico Hulkenberg at Haas, ended 16th, ahead of teammate Kevin Magnussen.

He survived contact with Williams driver Nicholas Latifi that tipped both cars into a synchronised spin. REUTERS

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