Hamilton takes the 11th victory of the season, ahead of Vettel; Verstappen completes podium in finale; the legend Alonso retires from F1

Lewis Hamilton ended the F1 2018 season with another dominant victory after streaking away from his rivals in the Abu Dhabi GP finale.

Hamilton led from lights to flag in the desert to take an 11th win of the year, holding off an early challenge from Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas before finishing four seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

“I am so happy right now,” said an ecstatic world champion.

Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were third and fourth for Red Bull but never looked to have the pace of their rivals, despite momentarily being in contention for a win as an unexpected rain shower fell in Yas Marina.

Bottas struggled after a strong start to the F1 finale – the Finn, who ends the season without a victory for Mercedes, was comfortably in second for much of the race but lost three positions in four laps to Vettel, Verstappen and Ricciardo.

Carlos Sainz was an impressive sixth for Renault, making the most of a DNF for Kimi Raikkonen as the 38-year-old ended his Ferrari career with an early mechanical failure.

Fernando Alonso also failed to finish on a high in what is likely to be his last F1 race, with the two-time world champion coming home in 11th and just outside the points despite a typically dogged and determined drive in his McLaren.

But the Spaniard still lapped up praise after the race, joining title rivals Hamilton and Vettel for doughnuts in front of a packed grandstand under the lights.

F1 finale starts with a bang

It’s been an incident-filled season and there was another dramatic first lap in F1 2018’s final race, with Nico Hulkenberg flipping over in his Renault after colliding with Romain Grosjean.

The two drivers were battling for the seventh position, ahead of Verstappen after his horror start off the line, but Grosjean nudged into Hulkenberg at the first chicane and the German was soon suspended upside down with flames emerging from his car.

“I’m hanging here like a cow – get me out of this car,” said Hulkenberg, who was thankfully soon assisted by race marshals before then passing medical checks with the FIA.

An early Safety Car was soon followed by a Virtual Safety Car on Lap 7 after Raikkonen’s mechanical shutdown saw him pull off to the side of the start-finish straight, which Hamilton took advantage of with a quick pit-stop.

Bottas, Vettel and Verstappen soon followed, seemingly playing into Mercedes’ hands.

Hulk
Hulkenberg appeared to be trapped in his car as is started to catch fire

Ricciardo, however, buoyed by rare rain in the desert which was never quite heavy enough for intermediates, stayed out and held the lead for some time before coming in for his first stop on Lap 34.

He was fifth and seven seconds behind Verstappen when he came back out on track but quickly gained on his team-mate again as Bottas, who had just lost second place to Vettel, toiled.

The Mercedes driver was nudged aside by Verstappen after a fine move on Lap 38, before dropping down to fifth behind a Ricciardo, competing in his last race with Red Bull, a lap later.

While all this played out, Hamilton simply cruised – maintaining a gap to perennial rival Vettel, who never looked likely to challenge.

Farewell to a legend

Though Alonso stressed that it was only “goodbye for now” in terms of his F1 career, he was given a fitting farewell in Abu Dhabi as he joined in the post-race celebrations, and interviews with the top three.

“We’ve missed him and will miss him,” said Vettel in tribute to Alonso, in reference to both his recent years away from the front and impending F1 exit.

Hamilton added: “Fernando is a true legend. It’s been a real privilege to race in the same era as him.”

There were also disappointing final races of sorts for Marcus Ericsson and Esteban Ocon, both off the grid next year, as they suffered reliability-enforced retirements.

Pierre Gasly, meanwhile, in his last race with Toro Rosso before joining Red Bull, retired with a worrying Honda engine failure.

What happens next?

Lots of hard work designing and building new cars, pre-season testing and then a new season starts in Melbourne, Australia in March next year. It’ll be there before you know it.

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