Max Verstappen and Lando Norris were RaceFans’ Star Performers of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Here’s why.
Verstappen’s options for covering off the threat of both Mercedes cars in the race looked slim, but an early Safety Car put everyone on the same strategy, neutralising that threat. Despite concerns over tyre vibrations, he pulled clear over the remainder of the race, finishing with a 15-second lead over Valtteri Bottas.
Although he didn’t emulate his team mate by getting through Q2 on the medium tyre compound, Norris pulled off a superb lap in Q3 to take fourth on the grid, even beating Alexander Albon’s Red Bull.
He was never going to keep the clearly quicker car behind in the race and sensibly didn’t waste his tyres trying to resist Albon. Norris showed similar patience when Daniel Ricciardo appeared ahead of him after the Safety Car period, but regained his place when the Renault pitted and led the midfield home, not for the first time this year.
While engine problems compromised his team mate, Racing Point needed Stroll to take up the fight for third in the championship on behalf of them, and can only have been disappointed to see him slip to 10th at the flag.
That was the position he occupied at the restart, though he stood to benefit from the Ferrari drivers ahead of him pitting. But Stroll lost places to Pierre Gasly and, on the final lap, Esteban Ocon, ending the team’s hopes of beating McLaren to that third place.
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And the rest
Why were Mercedes so far from their usual dominant performance in Abu Dhabi? The team ascribed it to a number of factors: Their focus on 2021 tyre testing in practice, severe understeer around Yas Marina’s slower corners, and the need to run their power units “as conservative as possible” due to fears the MGU-K would fail.
With Lewis Hamilton not fully match fit following his recent bout of Covid-19, Bottas narrowly beat him to a front row starting place, but could only watch Verstappen drive away from him on Sunday. You had to wonder what a fully-fit Hamilton – or, for that matter, George Russell – might have done in the car.
It was a wasted weekend for Sakhir Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez, who didn’t set a representative time in qualifying as he was doomed to start at the back after changes to his power unit. That then failed him during the race after he’d climbed from 20th on lap one to 14th by lap eight.
Alexander Albon’s hopes of keeping Perez out of his seat were boosted by one of his best performances this year. While Norris pipped him to fourth on the grid, Albon motored past easily enough early on, and was almost within range of Hamilton’s Mercedes as the chequered flag fell.
In his last race for McLaren, Carlos Sainz Jnr wasn’t able to get the best out of his Q3 run, and was disappointed his medium compound rubber didn’t deliver the expected benefits early in the race. He backed Norris up in sixth, however, being cleared of driving too slowly in the pits after the stewards discovered he only backed off to the tune of 0.6 seconds. “I don’t know why there’s even a discussion,” he remarked afterwards.
Neither Renault driver made the cut for Q3 and the early Safety Car took away their starting tyre advantage. Nonetheless Ricciardo ran long to take seventh place, while Ocon put a last-lap pass on Stroll for ninth. The pair were separated by Gasly, who made some of the race’s few passes, saying afterwards he prepared specially for the unique challenges of a track which is regarded by many as an overtaking-free zone.
After what he described as one of his best qualifying laps to date, Daniil Kvyat slipped back early in the first stint, leaving him on course to finish outside the points.
Kimi Raikkonen was out-qualified by Antonio Giovinazzi but passed him immediately at the start. He finished almost half a minute ahead of his team mate, who got stuck behind George Russell. The other star of Sakhir had little pace after returning to Williams – his fastest race lap was slower than that of lap nine retiree Perez – and he came in 15th. Ahead of him were the two Ferraris, who followed one of the team’s engine customers home after delaying their pit stops until after the Safety Car period.
Giovinazzi led Latifi in, followed by the two Haas drivers who, as Kevin Magnussen observed, weren’t really in the competition. They suffered heavy tyre degradation in their second stints and had to make extra pit stops, Pietro Fittipaldi being lapped twice.
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2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
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28 comments on “2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Star Performers”
15th December 2020, 12:39
Strugglers: The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
15th December 2020, 13:31
After such an eventful season, the last Grand Prix was not a proper event.
15th December 2020, 21:24
It’s gonna be ditched.
15th December 2020, 12:45
Strugglers: STR, and Ferrari (once again).
David BR (@david-br)
15th December 2020, 13:10
Not enough to make him a star driver? If ‘star’ is ‘shining brightly’ then that was Gasly as he was the only driver who really stood out as doing something different in an otherwise tedious race. No offence to Max, but he suffered the same head-of-the-pack anonymity as Lewis often does in these kind of races, leading from the front and untroubled throughout.
15th December 2020, 14:15
@david-br Whilst there’s no disputing that assessment of Max’s race, he wouldn’t have been in that commanding position had it not been for the mega lap that put him on pole. The RB clearly had pace but he delivered was capable in that car more-so than the Mercs. Based on that alone I’d say he’s deserving of the Star Performer accolade.
David BR (@david-br)
15th December 2020, 17:30
Ninjenius, definitely not! I’m just saying I’d include Gasly, not exclude Verstappen. All I meant was that Gasly stood out during the race because of his passes, while Max suffered the same problem facing Lewis so often, the pole lap was visibly good, but an untroubled race leader ends up not being very visible (or even shown that much in the TV coverage).
16th December 2020, 0:44
True, a bit like hamilton or schumacher back in the day, I hardly ever saw verstappen on tv coverage this race; gasly drove well too, I agree, saw him a few sec in front of the train of cars kvyat was behind.
15th December 2020, 13:26
“You had to wonder what a fully-fit Hamilton – or, for that matter, George Russell – might have done in the car.”
Hamilton is a struggler for coming back to soon.
Although it does make you wonder, how many times this year has Hamilton been the difference between a close race with Red Bull and cruising to victory in clean air.
Still, I think the Merc and Red Bull were close, and a stronger drive could have made for a great race. The Merc should have had pole, both Hamilton and Bottas’ had scruffy laps. Then they would have been pursued by the faster Red Bull.
15th December 2020, 13:32
It is a difficult one. In hindsight I think that a fit Russell could have achieved more than a not-100-percent-fit Hamilton. On the other hand, I respect (and expect) Hamilton to try to return to his duties as fast as possible. Or any athlete for that matter.
15th December 2020, 15:47
I appreciate that LH had Covid, and I’m glad it was no worse for him than it was, but the way I see it if he or any athlete decides to come back, then I consider that to mean they have come back because they are fully capable. Otherwise, you don’t come back. That LH returned for the final race weekend to me signalled that his illness was no longer an issue, and therefore no longer an excuse or reason for a sub-par performance.
And sure, I get that it is admirable for a top athlete to suck it up and get in there even if they’re not 100%, because it’s their job or their duty or they feel it is their obligation to the team or what have you, but then to me it cheapens it to then not perform to par and trot out the illness as an excuse or reason. Sorry but you signalled you were ready, willing, and able to go by your very return. End of.
I said the same about MS’s return to F1 with Mercedes. I did not and still do not accept that Nico handled him as well as he did because of MS’s age. Sorry MS but if you and the key people involved deemed you fit to return to F1 for those three years, then fair and square you’re fully fit and age is no longer an excuse or reason. If it was, you shouldn’t have returned.
16th December 2020, 0:52
Based on schumacher’s attitude in races where things went badly after his return, he seemed to not care as much as in his first stint, I think he came back only cause he liked the sport and to have fun with it, and pressure off is a way to have fun, a top driver should know that over 40 you no longer perform like at your peak, he already had examples such as mansell around 20 years before, and I’m obviously one who would’ve preferred if he hadn’t come back that old, and I also thought he retired too soon in 2006, when he still had a lot to give, but I think mathematical models estimated around 5-6 tenths of lost performance per lap on an average track at the age schumacher came back at.
Maybe we’ll get the chance to see the impact of age if someone like hamilton or alonso decides to stretch out the career more than normal; raikkonen did and I think relatively to his performance when he was just under 40 he’s driving relatively well, ofc his team mate is giovinazzi, but he still seems to have the drive.
David BR (@david-br)
15th December 2020, 17:32
@slotopen @matthijs @robbie I still think one reason for preferring a less than 100% Hamilton over Russell was that, depending on the situation, it would be far more difficult for them to ask Russell to cede position to ensure Bottas won second in the championship, which was clearly the remaining race priority for Mercedes (indeed more important than actually winning the race).
15th December 2020, 17:46
Yeah I’ve been puzzling over this. It didn’t make sense to me they turned the power down. I guess they were trying to preserve Botta’s second in WDC.
I would have thought a win would be better, But I don’t know how the prize money and bonuses work out.
15th December 2020, 20:41
@david-br Your wording makes it sound like Merc decided whether LH would return or not, and that they had a preference for LH as he would cede a position for VB more willingly than GR. I can’t agree with that on a few fronts. Firstly my understanding was that LH’s return was up to him and provided he tested negative he would then make the decision based on how he felt. So to me it was totally up to LH, and not a preference decision by Merc.
Secondly, I think it is the opposite in terms of which driver would cede a position to VB in order to help him out. LH hasn’t exactly been the one to do the ceding in the relationship but VB certainly has, and GR being the junior driver that he is could have easily been taken aside and had it explained to him that the main goal was that VB would beat Max in the WDC. I’m sure GR would have gladly played along knowing it would hardly be his place to do otherwise. Not saying LH wouldn’t have played along too, but to say it would have been ‘difficult’ to ask GR to cede to VB, after the opportunity he’s been handed, and by all accounts seemingly the future he’s got ahead of him there, doesn’t make sense to me. He’s going to play ball and do as Mercedes tells him until he has proved that he can take over for LH and thus call his own shots on an earned basis. Not to mention, they could have always just turned his power down in a significant way rather than the .1 secs they claim, if indeed they were somehow afraid to ask him to help them out.
@slotopen I thought by now it was understood, by Mercedes wording themselves, that they didn’t turn anything down of any significance in terms of their race performance. If they turned it down more once they could see near the end that they weren’t going to do anything about Max, that’s different, and sure, why not make sure VB gets the points.
Anyway, merely a pride thing for VB, as Max didn’t care about second or third if he’s not first, and certainly VB alone would have been embarrassed to not get second in that car. I think that was Merc’s only concern…that VB not be embarrassed.
David BR (@david-br)
16th December 2020, 1:31
@robbie I think Mercedes management had the option of trying to persuade Hamilton to focus on recovering or actively encouraging him to return. Who knows which it was, only them really. But I disagree about LH versus GR in terms of ceding position to Bottas. Lewis has done so in the past and would do so if he had to. But the point is more the ‘visuals’ of such a switch. For LH it would be no big deal. Everyone knows his position in the team. But asking GR to allow Bottas past would mark him out (for many pundits and fans) as too compliant, which is precisely what they don’t need in a number one driver. I think GR would have done so, yes, but what I mean is that it wouldn’t have looked good or been the image Mercedes wanted to project. In fact, with Lewis they didn’t need to say anything. When Bottas was slow off the start, he stayed back, while I’m sure Russell would have pushed (correctly) to overtake Bottas. But that would entail the risk of a collision – something LH clearly perceived and backed out of, knowing that a Bottas DNF caused by him fighting for position would be a serious team issue. Does that make sense?
Carlos Medrano (@carlosmedrano)
15th December 2020, 13:30
The hypocrisy of giving max the star performer and not to Hamilton when he wins. Red bull was probably more dominant in this race then merc has been all season. And Hamilton at least has to fight bottas for pole, max was literally racing himself
15th December 2020, 14:19
Just to see you whine vindicates his election!
15th December 2020, 16:02
@carlosmedrano Typical sore winner. It’s not enough that LH once again had such a dominant car and won the title early again, with virtually no challenge from his teammate who was the only other driver in the same equipment that could have possibly touched LH. No, you on top of that have to whine that he didn’t get enough star performer poll wins for doing what everyone expected him to do in that car that fits him like a glove after 7 seasons in it.
I guess it should be no surprise that you can’t see that Max got the nod this weekend because he did something unusual for the season which was to take pole from both Mercedes and go on the win flag to flag. Sure the car was great, finally, this weekend, but up against the season-long domination of particularly LH, Max’s day and his weekend stands out. And you should know by now that is often the case as to who gets dotd, or dotw. It is often who did more with less. Oh as I say Max didn’t have less on the weekend, but he did for the majority of the season, which is what made it special.
And btw no Max was not more dominant this race than Merc has been all season. But I guess it makes you feel better to think or say that to shade his win after a year of utter domination from LH, because that alone just isn’t enough for you.
15th December 2020, 21:40
Just found another enemy.
15th December 2020, 22:47
For the churchgoers He is a star performer even when He doesn’t show up
David BR (@david-br)
15th December 2020, 17:37
@carlosmedrano I tend to agree, but it’s a point applicable more to some fans commenting BTL than the RaceFans articles themselves, I think the latter usually still recognize Hamilton as a star performer in these situations. If you win pole and the race it should be virtually automatic, which is perhaps the problem. The poll can be brilliant, a standout lap, but then the race might just be about being consistently fast and not making any mistakes. I tried pointing that out indirectly in my comment above.
16th December 2020, 9:55
Merc had the faster car on Saturday, but failed to string a perfect lap together.
Ham’s fasters three sectors would have put him 0.1 sec ahead of Max, Bottas even 0.2 sec.
Considering Ham is usually faster than Bot, but wasn;t 100% fit we can assume Merc left around 0.3-0.4 sec in quali.
Max won this one on merit, not cause of a faster car….. that’s been the Merc all season long
Jim from US (@jimfromus)
15th December 2020, 13:57
RIC was in a car that couldn’t get to Q3. He finished 7th and fastest lap of the race. Fastest lap and not a star performer?
15th December 2020, 15:19
@jimfromus I agree that Ricciardo had (another) very strong race and could have been classified as a star. But fastest lap means very little nowadays so for me it doesn’t say much.
Dean Franklin (@deanfranklin)
15th December 2020, 16:43
You don’t need endurance for qualifying yet he was behind Bottas. Bottas and Hamilton have the closest average qualifying margin on the grid so Hamilton’s qualifying effort wasn’t out of the ordinary.
He seemed fine after two 1.5 hour practice sessions on Friday. Was complaining about being tired. He was talking about it taking time to get used to the car after missing the last race which didn’t make sense because it was only a two week gap between races which is standard.
I think he was genuinely rattled from the start of practice and that’s because of the pressure he was feeling from Russell’s performance in Sakhir. I think that’s why he struggled. It kind of spooked him. Seemed really defensive about it all weekend. Made a comment about the Sakhir circuit being “easy”, said he only saw parts of the Sakhir race which seems highly unlikely when you’re stuck isolating in a hotel, didn’t say many encouraging things about the junior Mercedes driver.
We saw when he was teammates with Button and Rosberg that Hamilton can get his confidence knocked around at times and when it happens isn’t the same driver.
David BR (@david-br)
15th December 2020, 17:54
Though how many times was their confidence knocked while driving against Hamilton? A lot more, surely.
I think you’re right about Hamilton maybe being put out, but you can’t ignore the effect of recuperating from Covid-19 too. Any effect of Russell’s performance might have been down to the excitement surrounding it as much as how quick he was. A premonition of what it will feel like after he (Hamilton) has retired. A kind of double sense of his own ‘mortality’ (which he more or less alluded to).
15th December 2020, 19:01
How many years has he been driving for Mercedes? Two weeks away and he needs to ‘get used to the car’. Boy, that is struggling indeed.
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