On a week where Cristiano Ronaldo and the 2022 World Cup are making the headlines, Formula 1 has travelled from Brazil to Abu Dhabi for the final event of the season.
The drivers may have had dinner together on Thursday night as part of the celebrations for Sebastian Vettel‘s last race in F1, but there is plenty of tension in the paddock following some controversy in Brazil.
Much of it involved Max Verstappen as he ignored team orders for reasons he wants to keep between himself and the team. He also came together with Lewis Hamilton earlier in the race.
The Dutchman and Sergio Perez shook hands after the race, but F1 drivers don’t forget moments such as that – you only have to look at Sebastian Vettel against Mark Webber in Malaysia 2013 which was a response to the Australian blocking his teammate in the 2012 season-finale.
There are plenty of talking points ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, even if the race itself might not give us too much drama.
Will Verstappen help Perez?
Christian Horner was quick to come out to the media and say Red Bull will do everything they can to help Perez in his fight to secure second place in the drivers’ championship against Charles Leclerc.
The pair are tied together on points, but Leclerc is ahead because he has more wins. Therefore, providing both drivers score points, whoever finishes ahead will be the 2022 runner-up.
It’s hard to see how Verstappen will help Perez. If Leclerc is ahead of Perez, will Verstappen start backing up the Ferrari driver? Unlikely.
If Perez is ahead of Leclerc then Verstappen doesn’t have to do anything and he almost certainly won’t be compromising his own race through strategy or letting his teammate through.
Of course, he may prove us all wrong but given how he blasted the media, watch out for a fiery Verstappen that could dominate this weekend.
“All the things that I’ve read it’s pretty disgusting and also, even more than that, you know, they started attacking my family,” Verstappen told the press.
“They were threatening my sister and my mum, my girlfriend, my dad. For me that goes way too far, while you don’t even have the facts of what actually was going on.
“If you have a problem with me, that’s fine, but don’t go after my family because that is just unacceptable. But we move on.
“Also in this paddock to be honest, it’s not only fans, but a lot of people what they have been writing about me it’s just ridiculous.”
Reports claim that Perez intentionally crashed in qualifying for the Monaco GP earlier this year, which meant he started ahead of Verstappen.
The Mexican went on to win that race after a strategy blunder from Ferrari, but who knows if his Q3 accident was actually, an accident. Maybe we will find out in a book one day.
Can Mercedes win again?
I wasn’t a million miles away when predicting Hamilton would win in Sao Paulo last week, instead it was George Russell with a superb performance.
This is the very last chance for Hamilton to keep, yes you’ve guessed it, his streak of winning a race in every season he’s competed in alive.
The smooth Yas Marina track will suit Mercedes, but there’s not too much to be positive about apart from that.
They generally struggle more when running lower downforce rear wings, which surely all teams will run given the two long straights.
A less technical final sector puts more emphasis on straight line speed so Red Bull should have the car to beat, leaving Mercedes to fight for the podium against Ferrari.
“We’ll be going for it,” said Russell. “I think since Austin the car’s been performing really well and probably better than we could have ever hoped for.
“For sure, Max and Red Bull are going to be fast here. I think the combination of the low-speed corners and the long straights, they are going to suit their car really, really well.
“But, we saw even in Brazil, on a circuit that we didn’t expect to be quite as competitive, we were still very quick.”
Hamilton, who was keen to steer away from the events of Abu Dhabi 2021 when speaking to the media, is making his 200th start for Mercedes this weekend and was slightly less optimistic than Russell.
“Who knows?” said Hamilton. “We are still improving the car. We don’t believe that this track will necessarily be our strongest.
“We think it’s suited to the others a little bit better, but I won’t know until I get out there, to be honest. I hope that it’s like the last race.”
Alpine v McLaren
Alpine have a comfortable 19-point lead over McLaren in the battle for fourth place in the constructors’ championship so it would take something special from Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris to overturn that deficit.
The battle between the teams should be close, given the track characteristics that will bring McLaren into play.
Ricciardo will want to go out with a bang, hopefully not literally, so a drive similar to his one in Mexico would be brilliant to see.
Wherever he qualifies, the Australian will drop three places due to his collision with Kevin Magnussen last Sunday.
“I feel good,” said Ricciardo. “I’m not, let’s say, mentally, treating it like it’s going to be my last ever race. But it could be. I know that nothing’s guaranteed in the future.
“So I’m just kind of going out to enjoy it. I’m not going to get too emotional about the thought of ‘Oh is it the last one or not’.
“But I do want to enjoy it and just take it for what it is. I’ve got a grid penalty. I normally go better when I have penalties. I actually asked for a five place penalty, but three will do so there we go.”
As for Alpine, they can probably afford a double retirement but should be heading the midfield once again.
Fernando Alonso says the team’s season has been “up and down” with reliability also being their weakest point.
“Let’s see if we can finish the season on a high and with a good result here,” added Alonso. “About how competitive we can be, I don’t think that we can repeat the Brazil performance.
“I don’t think that we will be that close to the top three but hopefully if we are in front of the midfield that’s already something for us, so that’s the target, finishing the race with a good result and enjoy every single lap on Sunday.”
Alfa Romeo v Aston Martin
This is perhaps the most intriguing constructors’ fight as Alfa Romeo are just five points in front of Aston Martin.
Aston Martin have come on strong in the final part of the season and although five points doesn’t sound like much, if you think that the top eight positions are likely to be filled by Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, Alpine and McLaren, it doesn’t leave many points-paying positions up for grabs.
A perfect weekend will be required from Aston Martin so a sixth place from Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll must be the target, if they can manage to lead the front of the midfield like they have a couple times this year.
Even then, they will be relying on Alfa Romeo to not be on their tails. Both teams will surely be keeping an eye on each other which will be fascinating.
Haas v AlphaTauri
And finally we have the battle for eighth in the constructors’ championship between two teams which will be disappointed with their 2022 campaigns – Haas and AlphaTauri.
Both should have scored so many more points, especially Haas, but there are still millions of pounds at stake.
Mick Schumacher, arguably harshly, has been dropped by the team for next year as Nico Hulkenberg comes in to replace him. Whether that will suddenly let him drive freely will be interesting to follow.
Meanwhile, Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly have not had the car to fight for points and there’s no reason to think why that will change this weekend.
Haas should hold onto eighth place if all things are normal and the Grand Prix is a typical Abu Dhabi race.
Track changes mean racing is much improved around the Yas Marina Circuit, but we often see a Noah’s Ark grid and the chances of chaos or incidents are low.
Expect some donuts and emotion post-race though which are always nice to look back on in years to come.