FOR a while it looked as if Daniel Ricciardo might end his 100th — and last — drive for Red Bull Racing with a win in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
But a scintillating performance by him and teammate Max Verstappen faded in the last five of the incident-packed 55-lap race, and the Perth driver ended up fourth, behind Lewis Hamilton, who scored his 11th win of the season for Mercedes, Sebastien Vettel (Ferrari) and Verstappen.
The race on the $1 billion 5.5km Yas Marina circuit on a man-made island had hardly started when the safety car came out after a first-lap collision between Romain Grosjean’s Haas and Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault that resulted in the Renault being rolled over and ending upside down on the barriers.
“I’m hanging here like a cow, get me out of here, there’s fire. There’s fire,” the German said on the radio.
He climbed out unscathed and Grosjean was able to continue, finally finishing 9th.
Hamilton had a fairly comfortable run to the chequered flag for his 83rd career victory, but it was a miserable day for Kimi Raikkonen, who retired on lap 7 in his final race for Ferrari.
The ‘Iceman’ joins Sauber next year, swapping places with Alfa-Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, who made a sensational start on the fast Yas Marina circuit, shooting past Ricciardo to grab fourth place for the initial few laps.
The young Monegasque still did well to claim 7th, only half a second behind the Renault of Carlos Sainz, who was in his last race for Renault before moving to Red Bull next year.
Pirelli figured the fastest strategy on the super fast circuit (average speed 195km/h, top about 340km/h) would be a one-stopper. One stint on ultrasoft for 18 to 22 laps, then supersoft to the flag.
An alternative would be one stint on hypersoft for 8 to 12 laps, then supersoft to the flag.
Red Bull had a two-prong attack, Ricciardo on the former tyre plan, Verstappen on the latter.
However, Ricciardo kept going on his ultrasofts for 33 laps after inheriting the lead on lap 17 after the Mercs of Hamilton and Bottas and and Vettel’s Ferrari dived into the pits for fresh rubber.
The Red Bulls were flying, lapping quicker than the race leaders.
However, Ricciardo emerged in sixth place after pitting for his set of supersofts, then set his sights on overhauling the leaders.
He soon caught up with teammate Verstappen and they both got past Bottas. But Ricciardo didn’t overtake Verstappen since the young Dutch driver needed to finish in second place to claim third spot in the driver’s championship, while the Australian’s dreadful run of eight DNFs precluded him from any glory.
And that’s how they finished: Hamilton 2.5 seconds ahead of Vettel, with Verstappn 10 seconds adrift and Ricciardo some 2.5 seconds further back in fourth.
His radio crackled into life after he took the flag: “It’s been an absolute pleasure having you in our team for the last five seasons,” team principal Christian Horner told him.
“We’re going to miss you. Enjoy this slow down lap.”
Ricciardo joins Renault next season after his frustrating year with Red Bull.
Bottas ended up fifth, Sainz, who joins McLaren next year, was sixth, in a drive good enough for Renault to seal fourth place in the constructors’ title.
Charles Leclerc was seventh in his final outing for Sauber before he moves to Ferrari for 2019, ahead of the Force India of Sergio Perez and the Haas cars of Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
It was an emotional race for Fernando Alonso, who ended an 18-season career that netted him two world championships and 32 race wins.
He and Leclerc had a good scrap and there was also some stirring action between him and McLaren teammate Stoffel Van Doorne and the two Toro Rossos, though the latter both retired at 4/5ths distance with smoke billowing from their Honda engines – which is what Red Bull will use next year.
Ricciardo’s feelings on leaving Red Bull Racing?
“I’ll go to the team’s Christmas party,” he said
“I’m sure some drivers would be like, ‘Christmas party? I’ve left the team now, who cares?’ But I feel being there is right, for the people who work in the factory and the whole team, to show the gratitude I have for the last five years of work everyone has done.
“And then it’s off to see my new team, and then on one final flight to get some downtime back in Oz.
“I’m keen to be in one timezone for a sustained period, get my body to reset and switch off the brain. It’s been a long year.
“Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride with me for the past five years. It’s been fun and I always notice the support, so thanks. Guess I’ll see you on the other side . . .”
Final results for 2018 Abu Dhabi GP
|3||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||01:39:53.088||55||6||15|
|4||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||01:39:55.761||55||5||12|
|6||55||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Renault||01:40:52.930||55||11||8|
|8||11||Sergio Pérez||RP Force India||01:41:11.657||55||14||4|
|12||28||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||01:40:30.045||54||16||0|
|RET||10||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||Power unit||47||17||0|
|RET||31||Esteban Ocon||RP Force India||Power unit||46||9||0|
|RET||9||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||Power unit||24||12||0|
|RET||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Ferrari||Power unit||7||4||0|
Fastest lap: 1:40.867 (198.225 km/h) – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Highest speed: 338.7 km/h – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
CHECKOUT: Alonso dreams of triple crown
CHECKOUT: Ricciardo splits with Red Bull