Abu Dhabi GP: Lewis Hamilton sends ominous warning to rivals ahead of 2019 season
Reigning world champion says he 'wanted to end the way that I plan to start next year' by winning the season's final grand prix
There was a lot of unpredictability during the 10th staging of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.
You had a frightening first lap crash that saw Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg somersault on the the top of a tyre barrier.
Then there was the arrival of wet weather, the first time it had ever been a factor in a grand prix at Yas Marina Circuit, with the question being just how hard would the rain fall?
But through all the unpredictability came a predictable narrative. It was that man Lewis Hamilton who came out on top to put the icing on the cake of a superlative 2018 for the Briton.
The world champion claimed a record fourth win in Abu Dhabi as he held off Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari to win by 2.5 seconds.
The 33 year old, who wrapped up his fifth title in Mexico in October, said he was pleased he could finish the season off in style for his team.
"I wanted to end the season strong, and on a personal level I was able to do that,” he said. “And the team have done an exceptional job.
“I wanted to end the way that I plan to start next year. It was a strong weekend that I was really happy with.”
Hamilton’s previous three wins in 2011, 2014 and 2016 in the UAE had all seen him control the race from the front.
This time after taking the lead from pole at the start, he dropped to fifth after making an early pit stop at the end of the sixth lap as Virtual Safety Car (VSC) conditions were called by race control after Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari stopped on the start-finish straight.
Pitting during a VSC is advantageous as you lose less time for a pit stop due to the rest of the cars on track running at a reduced pace, despite no physical safety car being on the track.
Instead of losing 21 seconds to his rivals, the average time of a pit stop, he instead lost only 15, a gain of six seconds.
The risk though was that Hamilton now had a long final stint of 49 laps on his second set of tyres to make an one-stop strategy work, and he conceded that despite knowing it could be an option before the race, that he was not convinced.
"My engineers, they always talk about stopping super early and they are well too chilled behind the pit wall," he said.
"I was like 'yeah I've got a long way to go and this tyre doesn't feel too good right now'. But it lasted long and once again they calculated it right and it was correct.”
Hamilton had to wait until Lap 33 to get the lead back as Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull Racing car, the last of the front runners to pit, stayed out.
This was in the forlorn hope that what little rain was around the circuit was heavy enough to force everyone behind him who had already pitted to stop again for wet tyres.
While the rain was visibly falling on the main straight and pit lane it proved to be only a flurry.
With Ricciardo out of the way after the rain had failed to arrive, Hamilton simply had the job of pacing his car home ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari.
Though Vettel was on much fresher tyres in the closing stages, he could do nothing about Hamilton.
That was the story of the season in many ways. Vettel had led the standings by 10 points after the 10th round of the season in Britain in July.
But while Hamilton has won eight of the remaining 11 races, Vettel has won once, and the 78-point difference between the two at the top of the standings does not lie.
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Vettel paid tribute to his rival afterwards. The four-time world champion said: “He's the champion and he deserves to be the champion. It's been a tough year. I tried everything until the last lap.
"He controlled the race at the front. I would have liked it to be a bit more wheel to wheel. We will try to give them more competition next year.”
There will be 112 days on Monday until the 2019 season starts in Australia and Hamilton will begin his quest for a sixth championship.
Given his relentless finish to the season, winning in Brazil and in Abu Dhabi after becoming champion, it is clear he has no intention of easing back.
Vettel and the rest of field face a tall order to prevent it from being another Hamilton and Mercedes celebration in 12 months' time.
Updated: November 25, 2018 10:54 PM