F1 2021 Round 23 – Abu Dhabi

The end has come. Yas Marina will play host to the season finale, as it so often does. How will the title battle conclude?!

First of all, it’s worth noting that the game’s iteration of the Yas Marina circuit doesn’t factor in real-life changes introduced for 2021’s actual race. In reality the chicane of turns 5 and 6 has been replaced, with cars racing hard towards the hairpin, and the sequence of turns 11-14 is now one sweeping curve. I dare say I’d have enjoyed the track more in its new configuration, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Instead I had to get to grips with a tricky track, especially the aforementioned 11-14 sequence, and my chief issue was with kerbs.

Many corners here feature kerbs that are quite capable of bouncing an F1 car, or at the very least, upsetting the handling. It took me a while to master precisely where to put the car through these corners, though once I did my lap times improved, and they improved enough that I was able to squeak into Q3, albeit on softs, which denied me any creative strategy options. I decided not to run in Q3 to save a set of tyres, and 10th became eighth due to penalties. At the front, the Ferraris were first and second on the grid, with Leclerc comfortably clear of Sainz. Next came Bottas and then Hamilton, and then the two McLarens. I’ve already forgotten who was in front of me – I want to say Stroll; I’m pretty sure it was an Aston Martin.

A fairly chaotic start saw me gain a place by the end of the first lap! I was behind the warring McLarens of Norris and then Ricciardo behind him, and the two were getting very punchy with each other, even bumping wheels, but I lacked the pace to take advantage. Instead, despite being on the (in theory) quicker soft tyres, I could only barely keep Stroll and Alonso at bay, even though they were on the mediums. I had to hang on a bit, especially as the soft boots degraded. My second stint also featured used softs, though I felt the car respond better with the fresh rubber. In fact, on more than one occasion I put in purple first sectors – it was the rest of the lap that let me down! My second stop brought me onto fresh mediums, and though I had dropped through the order, I knew other cars had to stop as well. Soon I was moving back up the pack, and wound up behind the comparatively (and surprisingly) slow Red Bull of Verstappen, who was stuck behind the Aston Martin of Vettel. DRS kept me in range but Verstappen was getting DRS off Vettel and the awkward nature of several corners made it very hard to overtake.

My tenure behind the pair ended when they both stopped at the same time, though not before Verstappen aggressively muscled past Vettel as we went through the twisty final sector. How they didn’t crash is beyond me.

I managed to put in some decent laps in clear air, and in doing so I came out ahead of the pair of them when I stopped for the third and final time. At this point I had to catch and pass Alonso to regain seventh place, but he was on older tyres and he didn’t prove especially difficult to clear. What I couldn’t do was catch Ricciardo, who was too far up the road, and quicker anyway. Seventh wasn’t a bad return at a track I hadn’t enjoyed, so I took the result as a positive one. Ahead of me, Leclerc had a poor race, slipping from pole to fifth, whilst Sainz claimed a first win in F1, and Norris took a surprising second.

What of the title battle? Bottas had started ahead of Hamilton but at some point Hamilton got in front of his teammate. Bottas kept pace with Hamilton but the reality was that he needed Hamilton to suffer a major problem, which didn’t unfold. Hamilton’s third place cemented his eighth World Championship.

So, that was that. I finished fifth in the driver’s championship and Meerkat Racing finished fifth in the constructor’s championship. I very nearly beat both both Red Bull drivers to third in the driver’s standings, but it wasn’t meant to be. The MKR01 (Meerkat Racing 01 car) retired having won six races and a total of seven podium appearances, and it could be very proud! Now I would prepare for the new season. Would it prove to be even better?

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