The TV cameras captured open-mouthed looks of horror. Gasps through the paddock. It was the moment Nico Hulkenberg somersaulted through the air and flames licked the back of the Renault he was trapped in.
Yes, Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, his 11th race win of the season, was accomplishedly serenely from pole, the perfect finale to the campaign of a lifetime so far. But the drama came much earlier, on the ninth corner of the first lap at Yas Marina’s bulb-lit track.
Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean became entangled. Hulkenberg was sent spiralling into the air, doing one-and-a-half revolutions before nestling in the hoardings upside down.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates in front of a big screen after taking victory at the final grand prix of the season in Abu Dhabi
Hamilton sprays champagne on the podium towards second place driver Sebastian Vettel after his 11th win of the season
Hamilton then took off half his racing suit to celebrate the end of the season as Max Verstappen sprays him with champagne
‘I’m hanging here like a cow,’ said the German in panic over the team radio. ‘Get me out of this car. There’s fire.’
His pit-wall people sought to reassure him, saying: ‘They’re coming, they’re coming,’ citing the marshals scurrying to the scene.
British singer Sam Smith, watching with Spice Girl Geri Horner in the Red Bull garage, could be lip-read expressing his concern with a very forgivable expletive.
Thankfully, the flames blew themselves out before the fire took hold and the 31-year-old was flipped the right way up and walked free from his captivity some three minutes after going airborne.
Hulkenberg was able to take himself to the medical centre for a check-up, after which he was declared fit. He later waved to the crowd as the race continued.
Nico Hulkenberg suffered a horrific crash at the start of the race after colliding with Romain Grosjean on the opening lap
Hulkenberg’s car flips over across the track as heads towards the barrier placed on the run-off area of the circuit
There was drama on the first lap at the Yas Arena, as Hulkenberg flipped his car and was left stranded for three minutes
Race stewards rushed to Hulkenberg’s rescue to put out the flames, before flipping the car back over to allow him a way out
ABU DHABI GP RESULTS AND FINAL STANDINGS
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1hr 39mins 40.382secs
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:39:42.963
3 Max Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 1:39:53.088
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:39:55.761
5 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:40:28.339
6 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Renault 1:40:52.930
7 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber 1:41:11.171
8 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:41:11.657
9 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas at 1 Lap
10 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas at 1 Lap
11 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren at 1 Lap
12 Brendon Hartley (Nzl) Toro Rosso at 1 Lap
13 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams at 1 Lap
14 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren at 1 Lap
15 Sergey Sirotkin (Rus) Williams at 1 Lap
Not Classified: 16 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 46 Laps completed, 17 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 44 Laps completed, 18 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 24 Laps completed, 19 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 6 Laps completed, 20 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 0 Laps completed
Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel 1min 40.867secs on Lap 54
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 408pts
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 320
3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 251
4 Max Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 249
5 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 247
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 170
7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 69
8 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 62
9 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas 56
10 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Renault 53
11 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 50
12 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 49
13 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber 39
14 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas 37
15 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso 29
16 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 12
17 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber 9
18 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 6
19 Brendon Hartley (Nzl) Toro Rosso 4
20 Sergey Sirotkin (Rus) Williams 1
Constructors’ standings: 1 Mercedes 655pts, 2 Ferrari 571, 3 Red Bull 419, 4 Renault 122, 5 Haas 93, 6 McLaren 62, 8 Force India 52, 9 Sauber 48, 10 Toro Rosso 33, 11 Williams 7
‘It was not the most comfortable situation to be in,’ said Hulkenberg, who reported not a single bruise. ‘There was also a little barbeque at the back, so I just wanted to get out. You feel pretty helpless, but the marshalls did a good job.’
Would Hulkenberg have been able to free himself from the cockpit but for the three-pronged halo safety device introduced on cars this season?
‘I don’t know to be honest at the point if the halo blocked me or not,’ he said. ‘I was hanging 30 centimetres off the ground and had the barrier behind me, so maybe there wasn’t much I could have done in any case, halo or no halo.
‘That was the first time for me having the car on the roof so I was sitting tight waiting for them and they reacted quickly.’
Hamilton’s win was aided by Kimi Raikkonen, in his final race for Ferrari, breaking down on the start straight, promoting a Virtual Safety Car period while his machine was moved. Mercedes smartly seized the moment to whip Hamilton in for a ‘free’ change of tyres while the race was anaesthetised.
Hamilton crosses the line to take the chequered flag at the Yas Marina circuit to complete the Formula One season
To mark the end of the season, Hamilton smokes his tyres on the track by performing doughnuts around the track
Vettel also took the opportunity to entertain the ground having finished second behind the world champion
Hamilton started on pole and managed to finish the season in style with victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
He retook the lead on the 37th of 55 laps when the rest had also been reshod, the victory never in doubt. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was second. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – after duelling hard with Esteban Ocon, who cost him the win a fortnight ago in Brazil, and then with Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas – finished third.
Fernando Alonso, in his last Formula One race, signed off with 11th. Urged to claim a point by his pit wall, Alonso said testily: ‘I already have 1,800 points.’ To which Will Joseph, his race engineer, responded: ‘Well, try to make it 1,801.’
In fact, Alonso finished the race where he had started it: on 1,899 points.
Actor Will Smith cheered Hamilton on. Earlier the pair of them had recorded a playfully video in which Smith held the world champion ‘hostage’ and begged him to give up his seat so he could race in his place. ‘I’m black, you’re black,’ said Smith. ‘Nobody will notice.’
Hamilton led away the start of the race in front of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and the Ferraris of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen
Hulkenberg’s crash led to a safety car period as Hamilton leads the field behind him at the Yas Marina Circuit
Raikkonen retired early on in his final Ferrari race, with his exit leading to a Virtual Safety Car – much to the benefit of Hamilton
Rain briefly hit the circuit in the season finale but it was not heavy enough to force the cars to pit for wet tyres
Daniel Ricciardo led much of the race while running a different strategy, before having to pit late on in his final Red Bull race
Fernando Alonso narrowly missed out on collecting a world championship point in his final race after finishing 11th
Hamilton, who finished the season a towering 161 points ahead of Bottas, was all smiles afterwards. ‘Will is the original hype man and he brings a lot of energy,’ said the five-time champion afterwards. ‘He is really like a big brother to me.
‘We were doing filming literally 10 minutes before I got in the car, which I never do because that when I am usually getting ready.
‘So, going into the race, I was like ”Jeez, I have completely changed my pattern.”
Hamilton peeled off his overalls to his waist on the podium and turned his back to the crowd in celebration. His giant cross was revealed – hardly in tune with local religious sensitivities.
The champion said his real intention was to highlight the inked inscription that reads: ‘Still I rise.’ Which, with eight wins in 11 races, is a sentiment that can hardly be denied.
There were a few celebrity faces trackside at the race, with Hamilton’s friend, actor Will Smith, one of the most noticeable
Formula One waved goodbye to Fernando Alonso at the Yas Arena, with the legendary Spaniard driving in his final race