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Verstappen’s Abu Dhabi cruise sums up lacklustre finale and season for F1

A look back at the talking points from the season-ending 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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That’s it, it’s over. When you strip it back, Formula 1’s 2022 revolution ended in fairly lacklustre fashion as Max Verstappen cruised to his 15th win of the season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

That some of the races were so monotonous seemed to lull some into thinking the grand finale at Yas Marina was better than it was. Objectively speaking, there was little action.

Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc‘s battle for second in the Drivers’ Championship came down to the wire but they never actually duelled this Sunday.

There were a couple of first-lap scuffles and some midfield squabbles but it always felt like a simmering spectacle that never came to the boil.

That being said, let’s unpack what did happen as F1 brought the curtain down on 2022 and the career of one of its finest and most successful exports.

Max Verstappen | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Max still the man to beat

Despite a blip in Brazil last week, the combination of Verstappen in the RB18 was back to its best under the lights.

The Dutchman didn’t get the best start but he held off his teammate and then never looked in trouble. That was the only time he was in any jeopardy.

It wasn’t as dominant as some victories this year in terms of the timesheets, rather it was systematic brilliance. In commentary, his guile in looking after tyres while extending his advantage was rightly lauded.

The margin of victory was less than 10 seconds but it could have been two minutes for all the threat he faced. Assuming the competition next season will be stiffer, he’ll still be the red-hot favourite to win out.

He’s a winning machine and it’s going to take a mammoth effort for anyone to deny him a hat-trick* in 2023.

“It was all about tyre management,” he said. “I think we looked after the mediums quite well. And then on the hard tyres, I was looking after them from lap one until the end, but incredible to win here again. 

“Fifteenth win of the season is unbelievable. It’s been really enjoyable this year, working with the whole team to be able to achieve something like this this year. I know it’s going to be hard to replicate something this but it’s also very good motivation to try and do well next year.”

Max Verstappen of Red Bull on the podium | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Ferrari and Leclerc clinch second

Finally! In a season blighted by blunders, Ferrari and Leclerc absolutely maximised what was on offer in Abu Dhabi to seal second in both championships.

The Monegasque lined up third behind Perez, didn’t make headway at the start, and probably had a slower car, yet delivered a timely reminder of his prodigious talent.

It took a mega final stint on the hard tyres to make the one-stop strategy work with Perez hunting him down after stopping for the second time on Lap 33, The Mexican came out 20 seconds behind and crossed the line 1.3 seconds in arrears as Ferrari capped off a frustrating season on a high note.

“I was 110 per cent from the first lap to the last lap,” said Leclerc. “Honestly, we had the perfect race for us, there was not much more today.

“I knew that the only possibility for us to beat Checo today was with a different strategy and playing with the tyre management, which we did really well.”

Reality check for Merc

If back-to-back weekends summed up the season for Mercedes and its W13, it was probably Brazil and Abu Dhabi. The high of Interlagos made way for mediocrity in Abu Dhabi.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell started fifth and sixth and looked like they had the beating of Ferrari for 10 laps or so, only for tyre degradation to thwart their progress.

Hamilton made a great start to overtake Carlos Sainz but left the door open into the chicane at Turn 6 as the Spaniard forced his way back past. The Brit then ran wide and rejoined the track ahead before being ordered to give the place back three laps later.

For all Hamilton remains a force to be reckoned with, his wheel-to-wheel report card in 2022 doesn’t make for great reading. Must do better.

From there, his pace fell off a cliff until the first round of stops, when some front wing was taken out the car. It was all for nothing in the end as he suffered Merc’s first mechanical failure of the year with a few laps to go.

Russell gained a place courtesy of his teammate’s retirement but the end result was still a fairly nondescript fifth. He was fifth ahead of the first round of stops and picked up a five-second penalty for an unsafe release that ruined his chance of anything better.

Still, it’s been an excellent first season at Mercedes for the young Brit, who picked up his first F1 race victory. Toto Wolff admitted the W13 won’t be remembered fondly but was bullish about next year.

Vettel’s farewell

Poor strategy cost Sebastian Vettel the chance of something better but he still turned in a solid performance in the final race of what has been a glittering career.

His Aston Martin looked racy in the opening exchanges before being put onto a one-stop strategy that cost him positions late on when his tyres started to suffer.

Still, a 10th-place finish, fittingly crossing the line with Daniel Ricciardo, was a better send-off than some.

He was a champion on the track and is a champion off the track, highlighting why his popularity continues to rise in his post-race interviews.

The German has become one of the more outspoken drivers, regularly standing up for causes he believes in, such as the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and the push to slow the effects of climate change.

Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin | Aston Martin F1 Team

If more drivers were like him, the sport would be a far better and probably less divisive place.

Let’s just hope people also remember the ruthless racer he was in his prime as he clinched four straight world titles from 2010 to 2013, breaking countless records along the way. Had Formula 1 not ushered in the turbo hybrid era, who knows how many more championships he would boast.

“I wish it would have been a couple more points but I enjoyed the race,” the four-time champ said. “I think it was a bit of a different warm-up today to get into the race, but once the lights go off it’s full on race mode.

“Today we maybe didn’t go for the best strategy. It was a shame because I think we could have turned the constructors’ championship around for us.

“Overall a big day, and a big thank you to all the support. So many flags and so many smiling faces, which has been very special, very nice.

“I’m sure I’m going to miss it more than I understand right now. I had a nice battle with Daniel but I just couldn’t get close enough.

“But I think it’s nice to have fought the last couple of laps with him, with both of us finishing in the points. It’s been a big weekend.”

Alpine finally clinch fourth

Consistently the fourth-best team on raw performance, the French outfit should have wrapped the best-of-the-rest title well before Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, Alpine did eventually win out in their battle with McLaren.

That’s not to say it wasn’t without its difficulties. Once again, Fernando Alonso was forced to retire with an issue. The Spaniard will be delighted to bring the curtain down on such a troublesome campaign.

On the other side of the garage, Esteban Ocon battled to seventh for Alpine to win out by 14 points.

If the team’s goal is to bridge the gap to the top three, they will need to address the reliability issues that have plagued them this season and manage the relationship between Ocon and the incoming Pierre Gasly.

Roll on 2023

It would be a lie to say 2022 was a classic. The first year of the sport’s new regulations perhaps left more questions than answers, especially after the epic season-long battle of 2021, but there’s certainly potential.

Whether that’ll be realised as early as next year remains to be seen, but we wait with bated breath and always in hope for what F1 can deliver. Roll on Bahrain in 105 days’ time.

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