Verstappen wins season finale in Abu Dhabi


So, here we are... it's the end of the season.

While last year's race was emotional for altogether different reasons, today there are sure to be a few moist eyes, a few lumps in throats.

OK, he never exactly took the world by storm, but we bid adieu to Nicholas Latifi. Though, courtesy of a very, very wealthy father, he was able to indulge himself like most of us could never even dream and barely made an impact on the sport, we commend him for his bravery in even getting into one of these cars. Nicky, we salute you.

Mick Schumacher made an impression, but sadly it wasn't enough. Like Bernie we believe his surname made things almost impossible for him. Yes, it opened doors but it also placed an unbearable burden on his young shoulders, shoulders already carrying a burden of unimaginable pain. He has always been a slow developer, so perhaps a year as a reserve or development driver will help him hone his obvious skills.

Was Daniel Ricciardo's biggest mistake leaving Red Bull or was it leaving Renault, only the Honey Badger knows that one. Though the money was good, McLaren was never really an option, not with Zak Brown at the helm and protégé Lando Norris at the wheel. Then again, the Australian did himself few favours. Red Bull has opened the door but it appears to be more about promotional work than a return to racing, perhaps Danny Ric's own decision on 2023 will answer a few outstanding questions.

Finally there's Seb. Having covered his career while in the junior formulae, it was always clear that he was special. How convinced were we? Well, to the extent that we got him to sign his name alongside his hero Michael Schumacher in our coveted copy of Piloti che Gente... before he'd even made his F1 debut.

Then again, the fact that the teenager pretended to cross out Schumacher's autograph was a clear sign of his mischievous sense of humour.

Seb has often been accused of winning his titles in the best car, but that was not the case. Yes, for a couple of seasons he did have the best car, but there were a couple of seasons when he was pushed all the way... pushed by a certain Fernando Alonso, another driver who will understand how Charles Leclerc must be feeling right now.

While we've seen our fair share of fairy-tales over the years, it would perhaps be asking the impossible to see all four walk away with points today, but here's hoping that each gets to sign off in style, and that at least two of them return in the not too distant future.

With Mercedes not showing the anticipated pace yesterday, Hamilton and Russell start behind the Bulls and Ferraris. However, on Friday their pace during the race sims was strong, so we are not writing them off.

Then again, considering the improved form in recent weeks, how strange to hear Hamilton admits that the bouncing is back "with a vengeance".

Few would bet against Red Bull and Max wrapping up today's race, but there remains the little matter of the runner-up spot. Heading into this race level - where have we heard that before - the fight for second is a straight-out fight between Perez and Leclerc and it will be interesting to see how their respective teams and teammates attempt to aid them.

Starting from pole, Verstappen will either have to allow his teammate to pass and then ride shotgun for him, which is as unlikely as it sounds, or else Perez, like Sisters, will have to do it for himself.

Behind, the Ferrari pair face a similar scenario, though Sainz is likely to be under instructions to assist his teammate to the best of his ability.

Last week we witnessed a crack in the facade at Red Bull and no matter how much the team attempts to gloss over the situation and insist that it is "private" all eyes will be on the pair today.

However, other than second in the driver standings, today is also about runner-up spot in the Constructors' Championship, that which decides the prize money, and with Mercedes just 19 points behind Ferrari, Leclerc and Sainz cannot afford to be tripping over one another.

Facing his first win-less season since entering F1 in 2007, Hamilton is unlikely to be able to do much about this today, but in his 200th appearance for Mercedes he would dearly love to help the German team finish second in the standings.

Elsewhere, there remains the battle for fourth between McLaren and Alpine, while Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin are battling for sixth and Haas and AlphaTauri for eighth.

Whatever happens today, fairy-tale or not, it is highly unlikely that we are going to witness anything like the controversy of twelve months ago. Fact is, despite the endless positivity from Domenicali, Brawn and ben Sulayem, for many the sport has never recovered from that night, and for many it never will.

As we close the door on 2022 we look ahead to 2023 a season that features the most races in the history of the sport. Those of you have seen the 'trailers' for Las Vegas may already be getting concerned and who can blame you, as the sport continues the seemingly relentless march to become pure entertainment.

Maybe it's inevitable, maybe be isn't, you can't stop progress they are always telling us.

So, rather than fearing what the future may hold for us F1 fans, let's make the most of the present, and celebrate the likes of Seb, Danny, Lewis... and Max while we have them.

In terms of strategy, a two-stop strategy may well be the fastest. Increased tyre degradation compared to last year has created question marks surrounding pre-event simulations. Two pit stops, with an average loss of 22 seconds for each tire change, is projected to be four to five seconds faster than a single stop.

Two options are considered the fastest: start on mediums, change to hards (between lap 16 and 22) complete the final stint on either the medium or hard compound. Completing the final stint on soft tyres is less likely, as it is unlikely to be as competitive as the other compounds. What teams choose to do will also likely be down to their remaining tyre allocation.

Anyone wishing to try a one stop strategy may arrive on the grid with medium compound and then replace them with the hard tyre, with managing the degradation of a longer first stint key. Other options on a one-stop strategy include soft to hard and hard to soft, at which point a safety car would play an important role in the outcome.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin to head out.

Air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 36 degrees.

Following the anthem, his 19 colleagues form a guard of honour for the departing four-time world champion Vettel.

All are starting on mediums bar Magnussen and Bottas who are on hards and Gasly who is on softs. All are on fresh rubber.

They head off on the formation lap, all getting away cleanly, though Russell, in particular, takes his time.

"Let's finish the job in the best possible way," Alonso is told.

The grid forms.

They're away! Despite a strong start Perez falls behind Verstappen as the head into Turn 1, with Leclerc tucked in behind ahead of Hamilton and Sainz.

Norris goes around the outside of Russell in Turn 1, with Vettel also looking to make a move on the Mercedes.

Leclerc looks to make a move on Perez at the hairpin but the Mexican slams the door.

Sainz makes a late move on Hamilton at the hairpin, and in a repeat of 2021, causes the Mercedes driver to miss the corner and rejoin the track ahead of the Ferrari

At the end of lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc, Hamilton, Sainz, Norris, Russell, Ocon, Vettel and Alonso.

As the stewards announce that they are investigating the Sainz/Hamilton incident, the Spaniard says: "He was super aggressive, he forced me off. He did the same to Verstappen last year."

Stroll has made up two places and Albon three.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Marina here.

As Hamilton eyes Leclerc ahead, Sainz is all over the rear of the Mercedes.

Hamilton is told that he must give the position back to Sainz. The seven-time champion duly obliges.

The Briton immediately resume his attack on the Spaniard and is soon past the Ferrari. Behind, Russell has passed Norris.

As he builds a 2.3s lead, Verstappen is warned to watch his tyre management.

Having shaken off Norris, Russell is all over Sainz.

"Tell me when Seb loses his DRS," asks Alonso as he hunts down Vettel who is all over Ocon.

Despite those softs, Gasly remains 17th.

Norris, Sainz, Hamilton and Leclerc all have times deleted after exceeding track limits.

On lap 8, Sainz repasses Hamilton to claim 4th, as Ocon slams the door on Vettel.

Stuck behind his teammate, Russell asks: "What's going on?" "You're free to race," he is told.

The Brazil-winner subsequently powers his way past his teammate on the run to Turn 9.

"I'm losing power, man!" says Hamilton, "what's going on?"

Meanwhile, Norris is told his team is thinking Plan A or B, but not C.

"Pace is good, deg is also lower than expected," Sainz is told. "I don't agree," he replies.

On Lap 13, Vettel attempts to go around the outside of Ocon in Turn 9 but is unable to make it stick.

Albon pits at the end of lap 12, as Hamilton insists "there's something up with the car". The Briton has fallen 2.7s behind his teammate and is only 3.8s ahead of Norris.

Stroll pits at the end of lap 13, rejoining in 19th on hards. Albon also switched to the white-banded rubber during his stop.

"At this pace we go to Plan B, no?" asks Alonso, at which point his teammate pits, as do Tsunoda, Schumacher and Gasly.

After 14 laps, Perez has dropped 6.5s behind his teammate, with Leclerc just 0.4s behind.

Perez pits at the end of lap 15, as do Russell and Norris. All switch to hards, with Perez rejoining in 5th, Russell in 9th and Norris in 12th.

Vettel passes Perez as he struggles to get his tyres up to speed, as Alonso looks to take advantage.

Alonso, Stroll and Vettel all have times deleted, as Russell appeared to have been unsafely released, the Briton almost tripping up over Norris.

Sainz pits at the end of lap 17, the Spaniard rejoining in 7th, ahead of Ricciardo and Russell.

Making the most of his fresh rubber, Perez passes Vettel for 4th.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 18, the Briton rejoining in 8th, behind his Mercedes teammate.

"I think the floor's broken," warns Hamilton.

Sainz passes countryman Alonso for fifth.

"Front-right is ****," declares Verstappen, as Alonso and Ricciardo pit.

Lap 19 sees a new fastest lap from Perez (29.798).

At the end of lap 20, Verstappen pits, the world champion rejoining in second, 15.4s down on race leader Leclerc.

Russell is given a 5s time penalty for an unsafe release.

Leclerc pits at the end of lap 21, the Monegasque rejoining in third behind the Bulls.

Russell passes Vettel for 5th as the German struggles on 22 lap old tyres. Bottas and Magnussen are also on 22 lap old tyres, but they started on hards whereas Vettel is on mediums.

Alonso in a right old scrap with Bottas and Tsunoda for 11th.

Norris is next to pass Vettel. "It's the worst, we're just getting eaten up by everybody," sigs the German. "They're two-stoppers," he is told.

Further back, Schumacher passes his Haas teammate for 17th.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 25, the German rejoining in 19th following a slow-ish stop.

"I think we're going to a similar window," replies Perez when asked about his tyre balance.

"We have to retire the car," Alonso is told, as he ends his time with alpine in the worst possible way. He is understood to have suffered a water leak. Well, not him personally, but his car.

"I'm being held up by Max," reports Perez.

"Red Bull driving for a one-stop," asks Sainz, "are they on a one-stop?"

In sixth, Hamilton goes quickest in S1, as Bottas makes his first, and no doubt only, stop of the afternoon.

"I don't want to pit too early," warns Russell.

2.5s down on the leader, Perez has Leclerc just 1.7s behind.

"Starting to struggle with tyres a bit," warns Sainz.

"Box opposite Red Bull," Leclerc is told.

Perez pits at the end of lap 33, rejoining in 6th, behind Hamilton, but ahead of Norris.

"We need increased tyre management," Verstappen is told as he maintains a 5s gap to Leclerc.

"Let me know about Plan A or not for the pushing," says Sainz.

As he sets about closing the 8s gap to Hamilton, Perez posts a new fastest lap (29.212).

"Can you keep this pace with Plan C?" Leclerc is asked. "Yes, I think," he replies.

"We're expecting Leclerc to go to the end," Perez is warned, "let's reel him in."

Currently 13th, Vettel askes whet times Norris (currently 7th) is setting.

Lap 37 sees another fastest lap from Perez (29.065), as he closes to within 6.5s of Hamilton.

Lap 39 sees a clash involving Latifi and Schumacher at the hairpin, the pair spinning like synchronised swimmers. The Williams is clearly damaged as it limps back to the pits with a left-rear puncture.

Sainz and Russell both pit at th3e end of lap 39, thereby releasing Hamilton and Perez.

"Don't leave me on a one, mate," urges Hamilton as Sainz passes Norris for 5th.

Stroll pits at the end of lap 40, the Canadian rejoining in 12th, behind his teammate.

Schumacher is given a 5s time penalty for causing a collision.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Marina here.

Ocon pits at the end of lap 41 as Russell pots a new fastest lap (29.042).

Like Hamilton, Leclerc is questioning his team's (one-stop) strategy.

"At this pace we're going to catch Leclerc," asks Perez. "We're catching him, this pace is good," he is assured.

"I don't think I'll come back if we box," urges Leclerc. However, he is told that if he doesn't pit he will be overtaken at th3 end of the race.

A bold move sees Perez pass Hamilton at the chicane for third. However, the Briton fights back and subsequently retakes the positon.

Meanwhile, Norris posts a new fastest lap (28.391).

On lap 46, Perez goes around the outside of Hamilton in Turn 9. However, did that earlier tangle cost him?

After 46 laps (of 58), Verstappen leads, with Leclerc second (+ 7.7s), ahead of Perez (+ 9s), Hamilton (+1.8s), Sainz (+10s), Russell (+7.1s), Norris (+ 18s), Ocon (+ 6s), Ricciardo (+ 7s) and Vettel (+ 1.7s).

In tenth, Vettel is under pressure from Stroll, the German eventually moving aside for his teammate.

Lap 48 sees Leclerc post his best time of the race (29.179), as Vettel asks: "How did we get this strategy so wrong?"

"Are we too late to stop," asks Hamilton. "We'd drop to P6, but we could battle back to P5," he is told. That P5 currently held by teammate Russell.

With six laps remaining, Perez is 6.2s down on Leclerc. "It's going to be tight, buddy, all-out, all-out," he is told,

Hamilton is shown the black and white flag for exceeding track limits.

At the end of lap 54, Perez is 3.2s down on Leclerc while Hamilton is passed by Sainz, his Mercedes having suffered a hydraulics issue.

On the pit-wall, Andrew Shovlin shakes his head as Hamilton is passed by Russell and then Norris.

The seven-time world champion pits and retires, his first mechanical DNF of the year.

Which promotes Vettel to tenth.

Perez now closes to within 2.093s of Leclerc, as Vettel is all over Ricciardo.

As they begin the final lap, Leclerc has a 1.8s advantage.

Verstappen takes the flag, while Leclerc holds on to second. Perez is third, ahead of Sainz, Russell, Norris, Ocon and Stroll.

The final lap sees a great scrap between Ricciardo and Vettel, the German needing to pass the Australian in order to secure sixth in the standings for Aston Martin. However, the Australian is able to hold him off.

Tsunoda finishes eleventh, ahead of Zhou, Albon, Gasly, Bottas, Schumacher and Magnussen.

"It's how it is sometimes," sighs Perez, "at the end of the day, I have to be happy as I gave it my all and I'm sure we'll be back stronger next year.

"We had great moments," he continues. "I did struggle a bit with these tyres this year in terms of managing them in the race so I'm sure that is something we can improve for next year."

"I was 110% from the first lap to the last lap," admits Leclerc. "We had the perfect race, we didn't have much more today.

"I knew the only way to beat Checo was with a different strategy," he adds. "I really hope next year we can do a step forward to fight for the championship. We will push in the winter break to catch them back a little bit."

"It was a good race," says Verstappen, as boos echo around the track. "It was all about tyre management.

"It's incredible to win again here and 15th win of the season, unbelievable. It's been really enjoyable to achieve something like this this year, I know it will be hard to replicate but it is good motivation to try and do the same next year."

Hamilton's season goes win-less and as if to rub salt in the wound - here of all places - his 200th race for Mercedes ends in a DNF. Meanwhile, one has to wonder, today's strategic calls aside, did Verstappen's actions last weekend cost his team and Perez the runner-up spots, those boos we heard certainly seem to suggest so.

So, we say farewell to Nicholas, Mick, Daniel and Seb... Ross Brawn too by the sounds of it, and good-bye to F1 2022.

However, those Liberty guys have a late surprise up their sleeves, for the drivers, just like the Sprint, are presented with medals, which, it seems is to be a permanent thing from now on.

If nothing else the bling will go down a storm in Miami and Vegas.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Marina here.

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Published: 20/11/2022
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