The ideal strategy for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was finely balanced between a one-stop and two-stop strategy. Most drivers who finished in the top 10 opted for the latter, but the first two drivers home one-stopped.
This was partly because in order to make the tyres last that long drivers had to avoid over-taxing them in the opening laps. Max Verstappen ran in free air and Charles Leclerc kept his in good condition; both kept their original sets of medium tyres going until at least lap 20.
Sergio Perez, however, was in for a set of hards on lap 15. The driver so often renowned for nursing his tyres ended up two-stopping, Red Bull bringing him in as soon as Leclerc closed up on him after 33 of the 58 laps.
In the final phase of the race Perez gave chase. However he lost crucial seconds at several points: First when he emerged from his first pit stop behind Feranando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, fumbled his pass on the Aston Martin, and spent an extra lap behind it as a result.
He caught a whiff of the disturbed air from Verstappen’s car at one point, and was quickly on the radio to alert his team that he was losing time, to no avail. Then in his final stint he was delayed lapping Pierre Gasly, whom Perez pointedly stated afterwards deserved a penalty. These hindrances added up to him losing second place in the championship as well as the race, by 1.3 seconds.
There might have been another one-stopper in the top five had Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes not given up the fight with a few laps to go. Carlos Sainz Jnr was closing in for the kill on his two-stop strategy just as the W13 cried enough.
While Hamilton enjoyed the quickest complete turnaround of the race on his sole pit stop, team mate George Russell pitted twice in the other Mercedes and neither visit went well. The first was slow and led to him incurring a five-second time penalty, which delayed his second pit stop.
Before the race Fernando Alonso predicted that having two sets of hard tyres might pay off for Alpine. They almost did for his team mate Esteban Ocon, who fitted hards for his third stint and chased down Lando Norris, nearly reaching the McLaren before the chequered flag. But Alonso’s race was over long before this point.
As was the case for all three front-running teams, Aston Martin split their strategy between one and two stops. In Sebastian Vettel’s estimation, it cost him a better finish and, with that, sixth place in the constructors…