Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Performing celebratory spins around the track was about as emotional as it got for Valtteri Bottas, after he beat his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to win the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.
Hamilton joined the straight-faced Finnish driver in performing spins — known in Formula One as donuts — having already sealed his fourth world title before the season’s finale. The race offered little excitement, but there wasn’t much to fight over as the serious stuff had already been pretty much decided.
Sebastian Vettel joined them on the podium, finishing third — and second overall — in an anti-climax to a season that had promised so much for Ferrari as it hoped to win its first drivers’ title since 2007.
As the three drivers soaked each other with celebratory bottles on the podium, Hamilton used his to douse Vettel as the German driver tried to turn and protect himself. It seemed a triumphant and fitting image, victor over vanquished.
Vettel was already thinking of drowning his sorrows, perhaps understandably considering how his title challenge collapsed spectacularly following the summer break.
“Probably find something to drink tonight and sober up tomorrow,” Vettel said. “Congratulations to Lewis on his season. He was the better man. I hate to say it but he deserved it.”
Starting from pole position for the second straight race Bottas secured the third win of his career — all since joining from Williams.
His 22nd career podium was his 13th with Mercedes.
“It is a really important win for me after having a pretty difficult start to the second half of the year,” said Bottas, who had a mid-season slump that damaged his confidence. “We Finns don’t show much emotion but it doesn’t mean we don’t have any. I am so happy.”
Bottas placed third overall, 12 points behind Vettel and 58 behind Hamilton.
“Hopefully better next year,” Bottas said.
He has only been given a one-year extension to his Mercedes contract, having joined this year as an emergency replacement for 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg.
Having sealed the title, Hamilton had no need to chase Bottas too hard. The 32-year-old British driver finished 4 seconds behind and did not get close enough to attack on a track he called among the worst for overtaking in F1.
“Never going to overtake unless he makes a massive mistake,” Hamilton said.
The race started at 5 p.m. local time with the sun setting on the desert setting of the Yas Marina circuit and finished under floodlights.
Vettel, who won the last race in Brazil, finished about 20 seconds behind Bottas.
“After three or four laps, I just couldn’t go any faster,” Vettel said.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen — the 2007 F1 champion — was fourth and also moved up to fourth in the standings.
Hamilton clinched the title — his third with Mercedes — in Mexico two races ago when he ended Vettel’s fading hopes.
The German driver’s challenge evaporated in the Asian heat between September and October.
Perfectly poised to regain the championship lead, he crashed out of the Singapore GP from pole position.
“It’s a bit different if you finish the race rather than if you don’t finish the first lap,” Vettel said with evident sarcasm.
Then, plagued by reliability issues unbefitting a team of Ferrari’s stature, he started last and finished fourth at the Malaysian GP. Bad luck struck again when he qualified third before retiring from the Japanese GP.
“Mercedes has been more consistent,” Vettel said generously. “It’s a straight fight and they just did better.”
Continuing the sportsmanlike mood, Hamilton added: “Looking forward to another battle next year.”
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen finished the race in fifth while teammate Daniel Ricciardo retired, dropping to fifth in the standings.
The other wins for Bottas this season came in Russia and in Austria — also from pole. Hamilton won nine races this year — having won 10 during the past two seasons and a career-best 11 in 2014. The lower total is due to Ferrari’s marked improvement this year.
“I don’t think it’s a shame to come second in the way that we did,” Vettel said. “But it’s not what we want.”
Bottas made a clean start while Hamilton held off Vettel, who locked his left front tire angling into the first corner.
Vettel was the first of the trio to pit for new tires. Bottas did one lap later, leaving Hamilton briefly in front.
At much the same time, Ricciardo retired, leaving his stranded Red Bull on a patch of grass as he hitched a lift on the back of a scooter.
It was the third time in four races — and sixth this year — that the Australian driver has failed to finish. He is weighing up his Red Bull future.
Felipe Massa, the 2008 F1 runner-up to Hamilton, finished 10th in his last race.