2021 Abu Dhabi GP – The Emotional Goodbyes

2021 Abu Dhabi GP – The Emotional Goodbyes

This is something that we see at every season finale, and it’s something we saw at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP. The drivers, team members, and the fans can get a little emotional because the season has ended. It’s not just a year of racing, it’s a journey from Round 1 to the finale. The teams and the drivers endure a long season, travelling all over the globe and working tirelessly every week. I remember the opening race in Bahrain, and I remember thinking that this season was going to be different. Verstappen was going to challenge Hamilton’s throne. And now I find myself in December, with the season finale done and dusted!

This F1ntastic Feature is all about the goodbyes that we saw at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP. While for some drivers, this was just the end of the season, for some, the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP was the end of their last season with a particular team. George Russell and Valtteri Bottas are the drivers who are leaving their current teams in F1 to move to a different team next year. But for some drivers, this was their last race in F1. Kimi Raikkonen competed in his 352nd and final race in F1. It came to an unfortunate end, but there were tributes from all over the F1 world to appreciate this champion. And finally, Antonio Giovinazzi is also retiring from Formula 1 (for now). He will be racing in Formula E next year, but I’m not the only one who hopes to see him be back in F1 soon.

Kimi Raikkonen

The first goodbye was for Kimi Raikkonen. Unfortunately, The Iceman ended his last race in Formula 1 with a retirement. He retired from the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP on Lap 25 because of a brake-by-wire issue. When Raikkonen pulled into the pits to retire from the race, the crowd got on their feet. Kimi earned the round of applause that the fans gave him. We didn’t get to hear a goodbye message on the radio, because it was definitely not the way Raikkonen and the team wanted to end the season. But Kimi still got the applause to thank him for all of those memorable moments in F1.

Raikkonen first raced in F1 20 years ago. After 19 seasons, 352 races, 21 wins, 103 podiums, and 1 World Championship, Raikkonen finally bowed out. Kimi left an ever-lasting legacy in Formula 1, not just as a champion, but mainly as a unique personality. The special message on his car was a reference to one of his most famous radio messages, from the 2012 Abu Dhabi GP. Kimi’s radio moments, “bwoah”, interview moments and ice-cool attitude are always unique. That’s made him one of the most loved and memorable drivers in F1.

The special message on Raikkonen's car at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP

Hopefully, we can see Kimi again in the F1 paddock, even if he won’t be actually racing in F1. I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in the paddock in the near future. He’s spoken about spending time with his family and his kids. Being an F1 driver means travelling around the world for 9 months. This means it would’ve been difficult to spend much time with his family. Now that he’s 42 years old, and he’s had his share of success in Formula 1, it makes sense that he’s decided to bow out. Happy Retirement Kimi!

Antonio Giovinazzi

Giovinazzi raced with a special helmet and a message on his car at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP
Giovinazzi raced with a special helmet and a message on his car at the Abu Dhabi GP

Raikkonen’s teammate Antonio Giovinazzi retired from the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP as well. It made it a double-DNF for Alfa Romeo, and a tough ending to the season for them. Giovinazzi retired from the race on Lap 33 because of a gearbox issue. Giovinazzi is also retiring from F1 because Alfa Romeo are bringing in Guanyu Zhou to race alongside Valtteri Bottas next year. While this may be the end of his Formula 1 career, for now, I hope that Antonio can succeed in Formula E, and hopefully make a return to Formula 1. He’s spent 3 years in Formula 1, racing alongside Raikkonen for all 3 of them.

Giovinazzi thinks that the past season wasn’t his last season in F1. If he can succeed in Formula E, and prove that he’s still worthy of a seat in Formula 1, then I think he will be able to get back in F1. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that. Oscar Piastri, the driver who absolutely dominated in Formula 2 this year, is left without a seat in Formula 1. But since Giovinazzi is a reserve driver for Ferrari, that backing should help him secure a seat in F1. He joined Ferrari in 2017 and made his F1 debut in 2019.

He had a good beginning to his career in Formula 1, scoring 14 points with 10 of them coming from a brilliant P5 at the 2019 Brazilian GP. That was a great race for Alfa Romeo, with Raikkonen finishing in P4! 2020 was a tough year for Antonio since he only scored 4 points. And in 2021, luck was not on Giovinazzi’s side. On multiple occasions, such as the 2021 Mexican GP, Giovinazzi had the opportunity to score points. But unfortunately, he could only score points in Monaco and Saudi Arabia. Next year, Giovinazzi is starting a new chapter in his career, racing for Dragon Penske Racing in Formula E. Wish him the best of luck in FE!

Valtteri Bottas

Valtteri Bottas won the 2021 Turkish GP
Bottas won the 2021 Turkish GP, his last race win for Mercedes

At the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP, Valtteri Bottas said goodbye to the team that he raced with for 5 years. In 2017, after Nico Rosberg retired, Bottas was brought in from Williams to race alongside Lewis Hamilton. This year, Russell is being brought in to replace Bottas, except Bottas is going to Alfa Romeo and not retiring from the sport. Bottas made his F1 debut in 2013 with Williams, and he stayed with them until the end of 2016. Before racing with Mercedes, 2014 was his most successful year. He scored 6 podiums in only his 2nd year in F1.

From there on, Williams’ performance went downhill. Bottas only scored 2 podiums in 2015 and 1 podium in 2016. However, Mercedes needed a driver who was consistently fast and could keep their streak of constructors’ titles going. Valtteri Bottas was just the driver for that, especially when you consider that the other drivers fitting those conditions were already locked in in terms of contracts. Mercedes could buy a driver out and break their contract, but that’s very uncommon in F1. That’s why Bottas was the right choice for that seat in 2017. And in 2017, he proved that by achieving 3 race wins, 13 podiums and 305 points. He was only 12 points off Vettel, who finished 2nd in the Drivers’ Championship.

2018 was a tough year for Bottas; he finished in 5th in the Drivers’ Standings and didn’t win any races. Mercedes still managed to win the constructors’ title thanks to Hamilton scoring a monstrous 408 points. In 2019, Mercedes went to the next level of domination, since Bottas and Hamilton were the main title antagonists. For the first 5 races, Bottas and Hamilton were trading wins, and after the first 4 races of 2019, Bottas was 1 point ahead of Hamilton. Bottas 2.0 was here, and he was actually challenging Hamilton. After that Hamilton won 8 more races, and Bottas only won 2 more races. In 2020, Bottas was hoping to challenge Hamilton further, but Hamilton established his domination earlier on.

Due to team orders and Hamilton clearly being faster and favoured by Mercedes, Bottas couldn’t get a clear shot at the title. In 2021, Bottas found himself in 3rd place 9 times, with Hamilton and Verstappen duelling for the title. But despite all of this, Bottas had a great 5 years at Mercedes. With 10 wins, 58 podiums and 20 pole positions, Bottas showed that he knew what he was doing in an F1 car. Mercedes gave him a message on his steering, which he opened after the end of a tough Abu Dhabi GP. It was a good thing to see, and it would’ve been emotional because Bottas has time and time again been a team player, even when it would’ve been difficult for him. He’s done so much for the team, but now he’s going to Alfa Romeo to take his place as the team leader there.

George Russell

George Russell is going to step up to Mercedes next year to race alongside 7-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton. This is a huge achievement for him, and he’s definitely earned it. At the 2020 Sakhir GP, Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19, so Russell stepped in for a one-off drive for Mercedes. Jack Aitken replaced Russell at Williams for that race. Russell was on fire in that Mercedes. He qualified in P2 and was only 0.026 seconds off pole position, which Valtteri Bottas secured. Considering how Russell had to adjust to Hamilton’s car and was competing in his first qualifying in that car, it was an insane performance.

In the race, Russell had some outstanding pace. He took the lead into Turn 1 and maintained a gap from his teammate in 2nd. He was on the road to take the win, but Mercedes messed up his pit window, and then he suffered a puncture. That left him in P9 at the end of the race, and out of contention for the win. He still showed what he can do in a faster car, but what he achieved with Williams in 2021 was even better. In his 3rd year in Formula 1, Russell had to push hard and prove that he’s worthy of a seat at Mercedes in 2022.

In the first half of the season, he had a lot of bad luck. He seemed especially fast around the Red Bull Ring in Austria. But he had to retire from the Styrian GP due to a technical problem. And in the dying laps of the race, Alonso overtook Russell for P10 at the Austrian GP. At the Hungarian GP, when multiple cars retired on Lap 1, both Russell and his teammate Latifi scored their first points in 2021. Russell had an unbelievable performance in quali at the 2021 Belgian GP, qualifying in P2. Since the weather was torrential and there was no actual racing, everyone finished where they qualified, meaning Russell scored his maiden podium in F1. It was fantastic, and less than 10 days later, Mercedes announced that they’d signed Russell for 2022! Unfortunately, he didn’t do as well in the last few races of 2021.

Russell was saying goodbye to Williams Racing, the team that brought him into F1. He was saying goodbye to the team that gave him the opportunity to show his talents to the world. After 3 seasons and a lot of tough times, Williams finally made progress and got themselves out of last place. Alex Albon will return to F1 to replace Russell at Williams, where hopefully, he can succeed as well.

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