ABU DHABI: Two-time world champion Max Verstappen claimed a record-extending 15th win this year with a "sublime" performance for Red Bull in yesterday's tight and strategic Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel headed into retirement with a point.
The 25-year-old Verstappen dominated from start to finish, but he was unable to assist his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez in his bid to beat Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and take second place behind him in the drivers' title championship.
Leclerc, driving with great precision and awareness, made his one-stop strategy succeed by resisting Perez, on fresher tyres after two stops, in the closing laps to confirm Ferrari finished second in the constructors' contest as he did in the drivers'.
Verstappen's win was a third in succession in Abu Dhabi and the 35th of his career. His engineer came over the team radio telling the Dutch driver his twilight drive at the Yas Marina circuit had been "sublime".
"It's incredible to win again here," said the Red Bull driver.
"A 15th win of the season is unbelievable. It's been really enjoyable to work with the whole team and to be able to achieve something like this.
"I know it is going to be hard to replicate something like this, but it is also very good motivation to try and do well again next year."
Leclerc clinched second spot after "a perfect race".
"I knew the only way to beat 'Checo' was with tyre management and strategy, so we had a one stop and it really worked.
"I really hope next year we can do a step forward in the championship. Compared to last season we're there so now we'll push on in the winter break to catch Red Bull," said the man from Monaco.
Perez came third in the race and the championship.
"It is how it is sometimes," said the Mexican. "Everything can be really close. At the end of the day, I have got to be happy. I gave it all and as a team we gave it all through the season and I am sure we will come back stronger next year."
Carlos Sainz came home fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Mercedes' George Russell, Lando Norris of McLaren, Esteban Ocon of Alpine and Lance Stroll of Aston Martin.
Daniel Ricciardo finished ninth in the second McLaren and retirement-bound four-time champion Vettel was 10th in his final race, for Aston Martin.
"I wish it would have been a couple more points," said the retiring German driver.
"A big day, thank you for all the support and the smiling faces. I'm sure I'm going to miss more than I can imagine," added Vettel who heads into F1's sunset with four drivers' world titles, 53 race wins, 57 pole positions and a chorus of tributes ringing in his ears.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who ran in third despite struggling with his Mercedes for much of the race, retired in the closing laps with hydraulics problems.
Hamilton, who lost out on an eighth world title in last year's controversial climax on this track, has ended a season for the first time without a win.
After another hot day, the contest began with temperatures falling from 28 degrees as Alpha Tauri gave the departing Pierre Gasly a guard of honour as Aston Martin offered Vettel a cake ahead of his final race.
Verstappen made a clean start from pole and by lap 15 led by 5.7 ahead of Perez, who was 1.3 clear of Leclerc as the first round of pit stops began.
As Perez, Sainz and Russell pitted again Verstappen continued to dominate from Leclerc and Hamilton, all three on ageing rubber before Perez fought through to regain third on lap 46.
With ten laps to go, he was nine seconds adrift of Leclerc, setting up a tense finale as he sought to stay ahead of the charging Mexican on worn tyres as Hamilton slowed and retired with a hydraulics problem. -- AFP