And here’s our report from the season finale. That’s all from me – thanks for reading!
And the champ, Max Verstappen: “It was a good race, all about tyre management. Incredible to win again here and 15th win of the season – unbelievable. It’s been really enjoyable to achieve something like this this year, I know it will be hard to replicate but it is good motivation to try and do the same next year.”
Charles Leclerc: “I was 110% from the first lap to the last lap. We had the perfect race, we didn’t have much more today. I knew the only way to beat Checo was with a different strategy. I really hope next year we can do a step forward to fight for the championship – we will push in the winter break to catch them back a little bit.”
Here’s Sergio Perez: “It’s how it is sometimes, at the end of the day, I have to be happy as I gave it my all and I’m sure we’ll be back stronger next year. We had great moments, I did struggle a bit with these tyres this year in terms of managing them in the race so I’m sure that is something we can improve for next year.”
Sebastian Vettel says goodbye: “I enjoyed the race, once the lights go off it was full-on race mode. We didn’t go for maybe the best strategy, but overall it was a big day and thank you for the support. So many flags, so many supporting faces. I’m sure I’m going to miss this more than I can think of. I don’t have much more to say, I feel empty, it’s been a big weekend. These last two years have been disappointing to me from a sporting point of view but big for me in my life. I want the other drivers to carry on the good work, I think there are far bigger and far more important things than racing in circles.”
How they finished
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
3 Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
4 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
5 George Russell (Mercedes)
6 Lando Norris (McLaren)
7 Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
8 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
9 Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
10 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)
11 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
12 Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo)
13 Alexander Albon (Williams)
14 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
15 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
16 Mick Schumacher (Haas)
17 Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
NC Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
NC Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
NC Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
And that’s that: the Dutchman saunters over the finish line for his 15th victory of a frankly ludicrous season. Leclerc, who worked his tyres to perfection takes second – and second in the championship – with Perez third. Sainz, Russell, Norris, Ocon and Stroll. Then Ricciardo and Vettel turn up the entertainment in the final lap of the season, the Aston Martin man not quite able to overtake on the final straight but finishing in the points nonetheless.
Lap 58/58: Last lap and its 1.7secs. It’s asking too much from Perez by the looks of it. Verstappen will soon sail to victory.
Lap 57/58: Two laps to go and Leclerc exactly 2secs ahead of Perez. A big ask for Perez.
Lap 56/58: “You’re going to be on him on the last lap,” Red Bull tell Perez. Sainz passes Hamilton, then so does Russell. “I’ve lost shifts,” screams the Mercedes man who heads into the pits and retires with mechanical failure!
Lap 55/58: Perez takes a second off the gap in the course of a lap. Looking good for Checo but could Verstappen lend a hand from P1? Would he want to?
Lap 54/58: “Leave me alone please,” says Leclerc to his meddling engineer over the radio. Full focus from the man in P2. Five laps to go with his lead over Perez at 4.9secs and closing, his tyres 12 laps older.
Lap 52/58: 6.9secs between Leclerc and Perez. “Tell Checo to go full send,” says Verstappen. “The tyres will survive.” In P4, Hamilton has Sainz looming in his rearview.
Lap 50/58: Stroll picks off Vettel for P10. Read the room, Lance.
Lap 48/58: Leclerc might just owe Hamilton a drink at the end of this, the Mercedes man’s prolonged scrap with Perez likely to have cost the Red Bull driver a vital couple of seconds. With 10 laps to go, Leclerc leads Perez by 8.3secs: a number that doesn’t seem to be going down quickly enough for Red Bull.
Lap 46/58: “Are we going to catch Leclerc?” asks Perez. “Yeah, this pace is good,” comes the reply. And soon the Red Bull man is haring past Hamilton, who gains DRS and returns the favour. But Perez is dogged and eventually takes P3 back again, the gap between he and Leclerc now 9secs.
Lap 44/58: Vettel, who has dropped a couple of places, is eyeing Zhou for the final points place. After a couple of goes, he finally makes the move stick – paving the way for Stroll who does the same.
Lap 42/58: A collision between Latifi and Schumacher had the double yellow flags out a few laps ago. It was Schumacher’s misjudgement and he gets a five-second penalty. Up front, Verstappen is out on his own, 8secs ahead of Leclerc.
Lap 40/58: Sainz and Russell both pit, which nudges Hamilton up to third and Perez to fourth. Sainz wastes no time in picking off Norris for P5. Perez is 13secs behind Leclerc.
Lap 39/58: So Verstappen leads Leclerc, with both apparently gearing up to make their tyres last the distance. Behind them is Sainz, Russell, Hamilton and Perez – who has just stolen the fastest lap and now has 29 laps to to hunt down Leclerc on fresh tyres.
Lap 37/58: Leclerc and Verstappen have both been told to prepare for a possible one-stop. Hamilton is hunting down his teammate for P4, the gap just over a second.
Lap 34/58: Perez pits and comes out between Hamilton and Norris in P6. So it’s a two-stop for him, and an early one at that. Bit of a gamble to leave himself with a full 24 laps for his final set of hard compounds. Your move, Charles.
Lap 33/58: Leclerc is inching towards Perez in second, the gap now whittled down to 1.7secs. We might have a scrap on our hands soon.
Lap 30/58: Red Bull watch: Perez tells his team he reckons he’s being held up by Verstappen. Behind them, the blistering Leclerc clocks up fastest lap while Sainz says he suspects Red Bull are going for the one-stop. Alonso’s retirement was down to a suspected water leak in his car.
Fernando Alonso trundles into the pits and his final act as an Alpine driver is to skulk out of his car before the race is done. Not sure what’s happened there but it’s a desperate shame for him – although McLaren won’t complain.
Lap 28/58: Vettel had registered his dismay over the radio shortly before heading into the pits: “It’s the worst, we are just getting eaten up by everybody, we are a sitting duck!” A slow stop sees him emerge second-last but he soon passes Magnussen for P18 and sets his sights on Gasly.
Lap 26/58: Vettel heads into the pits – the last driver to do so by some margin. Is he going it alone with a one-stop strategy?
Lap 24/52: Leclerc pits from the lead and comes out in third. So our top four is back as it began, with Russell 3secs behind Sainz in P5.
Lap 22/58: Bad news for Russell, who’s incurred a five-second time penalty for unsafe release.
Lap 21/58: The top two are yet to pit, with Verstappen leading Leclerc by 7secs. But then in goes Verstappen, who emerges in second just ahead of teammate Perez.
Liam Brannigan wants more next season: “Looks like we’re heading for a season with no particularly memorable race like Abu Dhabi, Sochi or Monza in 2021 (amongst others). In particular there’s been no chaos race where anyone outside the big three had even a sniff of winning.”
Lap 19/58: Russell, who reported problems with his front wheels, has been driving more freely since pitting. He clocks up fastest lap then skitters around Ricciardo for P8.
Lap 18/58: Perez comes out of the pits and while he tries to warm his tyres up is seen off by the cheeky Vettel. The Red Bull man eventually reclaims P5 but the outgoing driver will have enjoyed that.
Lap 16/58: “We need a Plan B, we are so slow,” Alonso tell his team from P7. And the drivers are heading to the pits en masse now, Perez and Russell next in.
Lap 15/58: Sainz is told over the radio that his tyres are looking good but the Spaniard isn’t so sure. “I don’t agree,” he mumbles. Albon and Stroll both pit and swap to hards.
Lap 12/58: Vettel’s having fun in his last race, locked in a great tussle with Ocon for P8. The German attacks his rival again, around the outside this time, but is just about kept at arm’s length by the Alpine man: No dice. To be continued.
Lap 10/58: Hamilton hasn’t convinced so far, unable to hold off Sainz and left for dead by Russell. Has his collision with the kerb damaged his car? The team don’t seem to think so.
Lap 8/58: Hamilton is 2.4secs behind Leclerc while Verstappen has opened up a similar lead. The real battle for now is between Sainz and Hamilton, the Ferrari man steaming past the Mercedes man who is then passed by his teammate! So it’s as you were: the Red Bulls followed by the Ferraris followed by the Mercedes (who’ve swapped places) Ocon loses P8 to Vettel before snatching it straight back.
Lap 6/58: Hamilton gives up his place to Sainz before immediately attacking him in the chicane, roaring past with DRS. And no sooner has he done so than his teammate goes for Norris, Russell reclaiming P6.
Lap 4/58: The stewards have told Hamilton to give the place back. As we stand it’s Verstappen up top, then Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Hamilton, Norris, Russell, Ocon Vettel and Alonso.
Lap 2/58: Hamilton had scooted ahead of Sainz in the opening moments. Race control are not investigating the incident between he and Sainz, who wants the place back but probably won’t be getting it. Bad start for Russell who has lost a place to Norris. Vertappen’s clean getaway has taken him into a tidy half-second lead.
Lap 1/58: And we’re off! Verstappen gets away well with his teammate just behind. Leclerc attacks Perez on the hairpin but the Red Bull man isn’t having any of it – before Sainz edges past Hamilton who goes off track defending his place!
The formation lap gets going, with every driver on medium compounds apart from Magnussen, Gasly and Bottas.
Five minutes until lights out. Another subplot is McLaren’s aim to overtake Alpine for fourth in the constructors’ standings. Fernando Alonso would surely like to ensure his team finish top midfield runners before leaving for Aston Martin next season. As with Mercedes and Ferrari, the gap between the teams is 19 points. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo is also on the way out, joining Red Bull as a third driver. “I think we’ve been a top-10 car all week,” he says. “My job is to get in the top 10 and get myself in the battle.”
Now for the ritual excruciation of Martin Brundle’s pre-race grid walk. First he interviews Bollywar star Ranveer Singh without knowing who he is. Then Ben Stokes and Jimmy Anderson offer some polite platitudes about the recent success of English cricket, before Pep Guardiola is collared and promptly flees the scene. Thank god that’s over.
Some pre-race reading on Russell after his maiden GP win last week:
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2 Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
3 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
4 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
5 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
6 George Russell (Mercedes)
7 Lando Norris (McLaren)
8 Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
9 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)
10 Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
11 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
12 Mick Schumacher (Haas)
13 Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
14 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
15 Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo)
16 Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
17 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
18 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
19 Alexander Albon (Williams)
20 Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
Long-shot of the day: if George Russell was to win this race and get fastest lap, he’d creep up to 291 points, one ahead of Perez and Leclerc’s current total. So a top-three spot in the drivers’ championship isn’t exactly out of the picture for him – but he’d need to repeat last week’s heroics and for one or both of those two to finish empty-handed. Surely not?
Damon Hill: “He is very human and people respond to that, sometimes the cantankerousness was there for all to see. He is clearly a huge character and what a send-off! I hate long goodbyes but it is a good way to go. He has become the drivers’ therapist, been on the phone to everyone when they have had problems. He is a very kind-hearted person.”
Max Verstappen: For me, one thing I will always remember for the rest of my life was last year at Silverstone. I came back from the hospital to get to my motorhome and get all my stuff. He was there waiting for me when I got out of the car. He said, ‘How are you doing Max, are you okay?’, and that just shows how he is: a super nice, caring person who is not only there for performance, but also means well.”
Daniel Ricciardo: “As a person, I can speak so highly of him, also on a personal level. Some things that he’s done for me; I’m just very appreciative of. I think he’s a very caring individual, cares about the sport overall, but cares about us drivers.”
And here’s Seb’s dad, Norbert, drinking it all in this afternoon:
Here we are again. No one needs reminding what happened in Abu Dhabi last time round, but suffice to say you’d forgive Lewis Hamilton if some repressed and enraging memories happened to bubble to the surface over the next few hours.
There’s less on the line this time, but that’s not to say there’s nothing at stake for the drivers today. Max Verstappen may have wrapped up his title a few weeks back and his Red Bull team similarly assured of the constructors’ crown, but there’s still the small matter of second place to be thrashed out between Checo Perez and Charles Leclerc, who are level on points going into the season finale.
The odds favour Perez, who starts from second on the grid, sandwiched between his teammate on pole and his rival on third. And Red Bull would quite like the one-two – an ambition that went wholly unaided last week by their star driver, who refused to let his teammate past in defiance of team orders. It’s a fallout that may or may not have its origins in May’s Monaco GP.
Friends again? They are for the cameras, at least. “I am very happy both cars are on the front row,” said Verstappen after qualifying. “We want to win the race but we also want Sergio to finish second in the championship.” The dictionary definition of a party line. Whether it was delivered through gritted teeth I can neither confirm nor deny.
Second place is also up for grabs in the constructors’ championship, where Mercedes are 19 points behind Ferrari. It’s a big old gap to make up, but not insurmountable for a team whose drivers took the podium’s top two spots last week in Brazil. Lewis Hamilton – in his last chance to avoid a fist ever season without a win – and George Russell will have a task on their hand, though, starting from the third row.
Elsewhere, today will mark the curtain call for Sebastian Vettel, who after 16 years and 298 starts will call time on his F1 career at the circuit where he clinched his first title. More on him shortly.