The Formula 1 paddock said farewell to four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel with tributes throughout the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend including a lap of the circuit on foot on Saturday evening.
The heat in Abu Dhabi is far stronger than I’ve ever experienced. This year’s race is running earlier in November than usual due to the World Cup also taking place through the final weeks of the month.
I arrive early at the circuit to confirmation that Mick Schumacher is to be replaced by Nico Hulkenberg at Haas. The team schedules an early media conference with Gunther Steiner, who is in his typically buoyant mood, not least because it brings an end to questions over who’ll be driving for him next year.
The press conference had those ‘last day of school’ vibes we always talk about at this point in the season. Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were placed in one group together. Jokes were flowing between the three on Vettel’s final press conference of his career and you could see how close the bond was between Hamilton and the four-times world champion. As Nicholas Latifi was speaking I spotted Hamilton raise his phone to take a photo of himself, Alonso and Vettel, with 13 world championships between them.
The atmosphere changed, however, when the current world champion took to the stand. Furious at the coverage of his refusal to follow Red Bull’s order to let his team mate pass him on the final lap in Brazil, Max Verstappen tore into the media.
Interviews continued into the early evening, many journalists evidently already thinking ahead to their season reviews. We ended the day at a social event very kindly put on by Mercedes on their roof terrace, while the lights began to glitter on the water overlooking the W Hotel and harbour.
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Friday started with a trip down to the paddock to start thanking everyone I had worked with over the past year. F1’s hectic, global schedule makes the paddock a close-knit environment, and at the end of the season, it’s sometimes hard to make sure you thank everyone for their time and energy.
Perched on a chair in the middle of the paddock, I watched the drivers arrive for practice for the last time that season. Vettel coolly strutted past, smiled and nodded in acknowledgement as he was pursued by a smattering of fans looking to get a picture with the departing driver.
Later that evening on the way to dinner I spot F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali…