Lewis Hamilton lost out to Max Verstappen on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after comfortably leading for the majority of the race.
Expressing his frustration at losing out on the win, and an eighth world title, the Briton claimed that the race was “getting manipulated”, in an unaired radio conversation with race engineer Pete Bonnington.
Despite losing out to Verstappen in qualifying and having to settle for a P2 starting spot, Lewis Hamilton got off to an excellent start on race day.
Having snatched the lead from Verstappen in Turn 1 and fended off an outbraking attempt from the latter on the same lap, the Briton proceeded to drive off into the distance. The Mercedes driver was lapping three tenths of a second quicker than his title rival despite being on the slower but more durable medium tires.
Given Hamilton’s superior race pace, Mercedes were strategically conservative with pitstops and chose to protect Hamilton’s track position at all costs. This seemed to work out very well until the dying moments of the race.
A Safety Car intervention on Lap 54 allowed Red Bull to pit Max Verstappen for fresh soft tires while Mercedes chose to keep their driver out on track with 32-lap-old tires.
Despite the obvious tire advantage for Max Verstappen, Hamilton still had an edge due to the presence of lapped cars between himself and the Dutchman with just one lap to go. However, the controversial decision by Race Control to allow only those lapped cars to overtake the Safety Car ensured that Verstappen was right behind Hamilton for the restart.
Consequently, Hamilton was unable to defend himself from Verstappen on the last-lap shootout and ultimately lost out in the title fight.
Mercedes strategy may have cost Lewis Hamilton his eighth world title
Lewis Hamilton displayed superior race pace compared to Max Verstappen and was nearly three tenths quicker than the latter, according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Since the Brazilian Grand Prix, Mercedes has generally had superior straight-line speed over Red Bull. Although the Milton Keynes outfit tried to offset that advantage by going for a low-downforce setup this weekend, the new layout of the Yas Marina circuit, combined with Hamilton’s superior pace, would have likely helped the Briton overtake his rival.
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Yet Mercedes chose to be conservative with their strategy, prioritizing track position and opting not to pit Lewis Hamilton when they had the opportunity. This, combined with the absence of Valtteri Bottas near the front to help defend Hamilton, allowed Red Bull to go aggressive with their strategy. They pit Verstappen during the Virtual Safety Car and Safety Car periods without losing any ground.