Stoffel Vandoorne has handed his team the perfect leaving gift by closing out his championship winning season with victory in the final feature race tonight in Abu Dhabi.
His seventh win of the year also claimed the record for most wins in a season, to his obvious delight as he celebrated on the podium alongside Raffaele Marciello and Mitch Evans. The top four drivers chose to start the race on option tyres, with Marciello the first man on track on primes in P5: when the lights went out front row starters Pierre Gasly and Vandoorne led the field towards turn one, easily handling the fast charging Evans, but behind them Marciello was very slow to get away and was swamped by his option shod rivals, with Alex Lynn, Rio Haryanto, Alexander Rossi, Jordan King and Norman Nato all blasting by the Italian.
Vandoorne and Evans made short work of passing Gasly on lap 3, the Frenchman clearly struggling with his tyres as Marciello was coming in the opposite direction and easily passing the Red Bull test driver one lap later for P3. As soon as the pits opened all of the option drivers piled into the pits except Lynn, whose teammate was still ahead and therefore had priority: unfortunately for the Englishman a VSC period started on the next lap for an accident between Nato and Nicholas Latifi, and the pits were closed before he could use them. The race went live 2 laps later, with Rossi taking the opportunity to pass Haryanto in short order as he chased after Vandoorne and Evans, who now led the pitted group, while Marciello sailed on serenely in the lead, pushing hard to build a sufficient gap to stop and re-emerge ahead of the McLaren tester, who was slicing his way up the timesheets in his now usual manner, blazing a trail for the others in his wake.
The question was when the prime tyred drivers would stop given how quickly they had lost efficacy for their rivals, and on lap 25 we had our answer as Marciello led his group into the pits: the Sauber test driver had a huge gap back to the others stoppers, but to his chagrin he re-emerged a few seconds behind Vandoorne. His fresher tyres allowed the Italian to push hard, but with 2 laps to go, his times started to drop and the game was over. Vandoorne was greeted by the chequered flag almost ten seconds to the good over Marciello, who held off Evans on the last lap for P2. Rossi claimed best of the rest status just behind the pair, with Gasly fifth on the road but eighth on the results thanks to a 5 second penalty for speeding in the pitlane, promoting King, Haryanto and Lynn in the process, with Andre Negrao and Nathanael Berthon claiming the final points on offer.