The lights went out and Hamilton had the better start of the two. Hardly a lap later, the duo almost came together around the hairpin, but the Briton ran off the track, took the shorter route, and rejoined the track, gaining a significant advantage.
While many anticipated the stewards to launch an investigation, the reality was far more surprising, as the stewards did affirm ‘No investigation necessary’. Was that fair? Well, although it looked like Verstappen might have pushed Hamilton off the track, the latter took a bit too much advantage of the run-off area.
By lap 13, Hamilton found himself over 4.5s ahead of Verstappen, as the Dutchman’s title hopes diminished with each passing lap.
Verstappen pits as Mercedes react
On lap 14, Red Bull called Verstappen into the pits for a set of hard tires, hoping to gain some kind of an advantage over Hamilton. However, Mercedes took no risk with gambling and reacted by bringing Hamilton into the pits over the very next lap.
And, Red Bull were left with just one more option; leaving Perez out on the track to defend against Hamilton. But, boy did Perez do the job by bridging the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen from 10s to a mere 1.5s in a couple of laps.
Unfortunately, the Mercedes was a bit too fast for Verstappen to try and beat, as the gap continued to grow bigger with each passing lap.
Meanwhile, lap 28 officially ended Raikkonen’s career, as the Finn’s Alfa Romeo suffered brake failures. On the very same lap, Russell’s stint with Williams ended as loss of power forced the Briton to limp back into the pits and retire from the race.
Red Bull take advantage of VSC
On lap 37, Giovinazzi brought out the Virtual safety car by parking his Alfa Romeo. While Hamilton stayed out on the track, both the Red Bull drivers pitted, earning themselves a cheap pit stop. Hence, by the time the VSC ended, Verstappen was in P2, just over 17s away from Hamilton and with a set of tires that were over 22 laps younger.
Battle for the championship
The stage was set for an ecstatic end to the race, with Verstappen hunting down Hamilton, but, with just over 15 laps in hand and the Briton pacing a bit too competitively, Verstappen’s hopes of stealing the title steadily diminished.
By lap 48, the gap was down to 12s, which definitely wasn’t good for Verstappen, as he, from that point, needed over a second a lap to even close his gap down to the soon-to-be 8-time world champion.
Safety car induces twist into the tale
With just 5 laps in hand, Latifi crashed into the wall after tangling with Schumacher. Hence, the safety car was out, and crucially, Verstappen pitted for a set of soft tires and Hamilton had to stay out on his dying hard tires. Then arrived the twist!
Exactly who is to blame for the outcome of Abu Dhabi GP that cost Lewis Hamilton his 8th championship title?