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Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi, 2021

Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz Jnr and Yuki Tsunoda were RaceFans’ Star Performers of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Here’s why.


Max Verstappen

  • Won a critical pole position with a searing, tow-assisted Q3 lap…
  • …but had to start the race on a set of soft tyres after flat spotting a set of mediums early in Q2, compromising his start off the line
  • Had superior race pace to every driver on the grid throughout the race – except for his main adversary Hamilton
  • But when given the opportunity for a last lap sprint to the finish, he took it with a perfectly executed pass at turn five to win the race – and his first world championship, notwithstanding a potential appeal

Lewis Hamilton

  • Got onto the front row with a chance to seize the lead on the opening lap
  • A fantastic start brought him into the lead, though he was fortunate not to be investigated for cutting the turn six-seven chicane while defending his position from Verstappen
  • Gradually became a non-factor as he pulled out several tenths per lap, every lap
  • If the race had ended under Safety Car, he would have driven 44 laps to the chequered flag on a scrubbed set of hard tyres – but on the fateful restart, he just didn’t have the grip he needed to see off Verstappen
  • Finished second and was remarkably gracious in defeat after a stunning reversal of fortune

Carlos Sainz Jnr

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Yas Marina, 2021 Sainz ended his season on the podium
  • Qualified fifth, ahead of his team mate Leclerc for the fourth time in five races
  • Starting on softs, he gained a place on lap one, pitted on lap 19 for new hard tyres
  • Ran ahead of Leclerc from lights to flag
  • Was running fourth before Perez retired, elevating him to third place on the last lap – he then withstood Bottas and Tsunoda to secure his fourth podium of 2021 – and fifth in the drivers’ championship

Yuki Tsunoda

  • Superb qualifying effort: Got from Q2 to Q3 on medium tyres, and out-qualified Gasly for the first time this season in eighth
  • Jumped ahead of Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap, and was able to keep the outgoing Mercedes driver behind until his lap 23 pit stop
  • Was already set to match his best result of 2021 in sixth, before the pivotal safety car gave him the chance to pit for new soft tyres
  • A brilliant overtake around Bottas on the final lap (and Pérez’s retirement) secured a career-best fourth place finish, half a second from becoming Japan’s fourth F1 podium finisher

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Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, Yas Marina, 2021 Raikkonen’s final race was one to forget
  • Qualifying for his final F1 race didn’t go well – he was only ahead of the Haas pair, and six-tenths back from team mate Giovinazzi in Q1
  • Never a factor in the race, even before spinning off track due to a terminal brake problem
  • Despite his subdued curtain call nonetheless won F1’s Driver of the Day poll following an influencer-led campaign

And the rest

Valtteri Bottas

  • Even with an older engine, qualifying sixth, half a second back of Hamilton, was still a shock
  • Dropped two positions off the start and spent the early chunk of the race behind Tsunoda, forcing him to go long on his first medium-shod stint
  • Overtaken by Tsunoda and Gasly on the last lap, but sixth place in his farewell race for Mercedes was still enough to secure the manufacturer an eighth straight constructors’ championship

Sergio Perez

  • His first qualifying run was sacrificed for Verstappen’s benefit, after which he was eight tenths off his Red Bull team mate and behind Norris in fourth
  • Passed Norris on the opening lap to move into third behind Hamilton and Verstappen, exactly where Red Bull needed him to have any chance at the constructors’ title
  • Long first stint set up an incredible defensive drive to back Hamilton up from ten seconds ahead of Verstappen, to just one second, saving his team mate’s championship hopes
  • Denied a reward for his efforts after being forced to retire from third place with a suspected engine problem – a Red Bull one-two very well could have been possible

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Lando Norris

  • Sensational performance in Q3 got him third on the grid; out-qualified Ricciardo for the 15th time this season
  • Not his best start off the line, but he settled into a rhythm behind Sainz and was fifth with twenty laps to go
  • A potential podium bid was undone by a slow puncture; dropped to ninth, then gained two places in the closing laps to finish seventh

Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Yas Marina, 2021 Ricciardo lost out due to controversial restart decision
  • Only tenth on the grid, half a second behind Norris in Q3
  • Couldn’t find a way past Ocon, then got caught out of position by the Virtual Safety Car and the final Safety Car interventions
  • Pitted during the final Safety Car, giving up two places in the hope he could regain them and more after changing tyres
  • But unlike several drivers ahead he was not allowed to un-lap himself which resigned him to finishing 12th, one lap behind the leader

Lance Stroll

  • Out-qualified Vettel for the first time since the United States, and for the eighth time this season
  • Ran outside the points for much of the 58 laps as Aston Martin struggled for race pace
  • Never had a chance to scrap for points on new soft tyres, as he wasn’t waved around before the Safety Car withdrawal – frustrated to have finished 13th

Sebastian Vettel

  • Only 15th on the grid after an incident-filled qualifying session
  • Lost too much time early on in the wake of Giovinazzi, hurting his chances of advancing into the points
  • Narrowly missed out on a point in eleventh after being released from the Safety Car queue – but scooped F1’s first Overtake Award, meaning Aston Martin take home some form of silverware

Esteban Ocon

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Yas Marina, 2021 Ocon collected a reprimand for delaying Vettel
  • Made Q3 for the third time in a row, and secured an 11-11 draw with Alonso in head-to-head qualifying results – not an easy task given the champion’s track record
  • Picked up a reprimand for impeding Vettel
  • Spent the majority of the race ahead of Ricciardo, and right behind Alonso on track
  • Finished his 2021 campaign with ninth place

Fernando Alonso

  • Upset at drivers impeding during qualifying and failed to make the cut for Q3
  • Diverged from many of his rivals on strategy, running 36 laps on scrubbed hard tyres before switching to fresh mediums
  • Finished eighth – just ahead of Ocon, and just behind Norris

Charles Leclerc

  • Was a solid seventh in a close qualifying session
  • Gambled on pitting for mediums during Virtual Safety Car on lap 35, but lost track position and never gained significant time back
  • Fortunate to be promoted to tenth, in large part due to Perez’s retirement

Pierre Gasly

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Yas Marina, 2021 Rejoining the lead lap paid off for Gasly
  • Uncharacteristically off his usual qualifying form; missed Q3 for only the fourth time in 2021
  • Started 12th on hard tyres and was able to get up to fifth by the end of his first stint on the alternate strategy
  • Followed Tsunoda through ahead of Bottas to take fifth place, signing off of his best F1 season to date on a high note

Antonio Giovinazzi

  • Got in one more great qualifying effort by reaching Q2 and out-ranking Raikkonen for the 15th time in 2021
  • Was keeping the Aston Martins at bay after moving ahead of Stroll on the first lap
  • Retired from his last Formula 1 race – at least for now – after a mechanical failure while running 13th

Mick Schumacher

  • Completed a head-to-head qualifying sweep by qualifying three quarters of a second ahead of Mazepin
  • Had a spirited scrap with the Williams duo on the opening lap, keeping Russell and Latifi honest until an early first pit stop
  • Ran ahead of Latifi until the Williams driver crashed, and brought his sluggish Haas VF21 to the chequered flag in 14th

Nikita Mazepin

Nikita Mazepin, Haas, Yas Marina, 2021 Mazepin missed the season finale
  • Was out-qualified by his team mate on Saturday, as he was at every race this year where both set times
  • Tested positive for Covid-19 hours before the grand prix and missed the final race of the year

George Russell

  • Strategically compromised in Q1, leaving him behind the cut line for just the third time this season
  • Dropped to last on the opening lap, suffered with cooling problems for much of his abbreviated race
  • Retired from his final start at Williams with a gearbox failure, departing the team in an upward trajectory from where he joined them in 2019

Nicholas Latifi

  • Got his second head-to-head qualifying result over Russell, and only missed Q2 by about one tenth of a second to boot
  • Ran ahead of Russell until his retirement, then fell behind Mick Schumacher
  • Clash with Schumacher forced him wide and precipitated his accident on lap 51 to end the race

Over to you

Vote for the driver who impressed you most last weekend and find out whether other RaceFans share your view here:

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2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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  • Plan to delay Hamilton “worked perfectly” says Perez after praise from Verstappen

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