Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Verstappen caps off 2022 in style

Max Verstappen capped off his 2022 Formula 1 campaign in style winning the 2022 Abu Dhabi season finale

The Dutchman had a decent start to his race and managed to keep himself out of any threat from the drivers behind, while teammate Sergio Perez who started from second was under constant pressure from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

Red Bull have decisively put Perez on a two stop strategy as Ferrari, being Ferrari were constantly evaluating whether to have Leclerc on a one or two stopper.

In the end, Ferrari committed to keeping Leclerc on a one stopper and the Ferrari ace just managed to keep the Perez at bay and take second in the Drivers’ Championship.

Did Ferrari know their tyres would last, or was it lucky strike? We can never know but in the end the outcome redeemed them.

Despite showing from practice the Ferraris were suffering from tyre degradation, the F1-75 seemed to be kinder on its tyres in the cooler track temperatures, and with some tyre whispering from Leclerc, he was able to keep Perez behind.

At the end of the race, donuts were the order of the day with Verstappen, Leclerc and Perez performing them to the joy of the crowds.

Sebastian Vettel who finished the race tenth, after a far from optimal one-stop strategy by Aston Martin went for a spin as well burning some rubber as concluded an impressive career in F1, a quadruple F1 Champion, 53 wins and 57 pole positions.

He win his first Title in Abu Dhabi in 2010, and concluded his career there scoring points for Aston Martin, after putting his car in Q3 in qualifying a day earlier.

What the top three finishers said

After their celebratory burnouts, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and Sergio Perez gave the usual post race interviews.

The 2022 Champion reflected on an “unbelievable” year, and its season finale; he said: “It was all about tyre management.

“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.

“15th win of the season is unbelievable,” he went on. “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,” the Dutchman concluded.

It was Verstappen 15th win this year as he broke his own record of 14 wins per season.

Charles Leclerc who drove one of his best races to take the runner up position in the Championship behind Verstappen said: “I was 110 per cent from the first lap to the last.

“We had the perfect race. I knew the only way for us to beat Checo was with a different strategy and playing with time management, which we did really well. We made the one-stop work so I am really happy.

“I really hope next year we can make a step forward and fight for the championship but considering where we were it is a step forward. We still need to work on race pace as we tend to struggle on Sunday but we will push during the winter break,” he added.

Third placed in the race and the Championship, Sergio Perez commented on losing his fight with Leclerc; he said: “It is how it is.

“Sometimes everything can be really close. At the end of the day, I’ve got to be happy. I gave it all, as a team we gave it all through the season, and I’m sure we will come back stronger next year,” he added.

“We had great moments, great battling. I think I struggled a bit this year in terms of managing the tyres in the race, so hopefully that can be something that we will improve for next year, and generally just be a bit stronger,” the Mexican concluded.

A special interview for Sebastian Vettel

Vettel finished the race trying to pass former teammate Daniel Ricciardo for ninth but ran out of laps to do so. Reflecting on the he said: “You know how it is. I wish it would have been a couple more points.

“But I enjoyed the race, 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,” he added.

“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,” the German who was voted driver of the day concluded.

How they finished

So Max Verstappen took the final win of the 2022 F1 season ahead of Charles Leclerc who just managed to fend off the attack of third placed Sergio Perez.

Carlos Sainz took fourth place in the second Ferrari, finishing over 14 second behind the Mexican as George Russell finished 11s second further down the road fifth.

Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes retired towards the end with a hydraulics problem on his W13.

Lando Norris finished a respectable sixth place with Esteban Ocon behind him in seventh, as the Fernando Alonso concluded his Alpine career with yet another retirement.

Lance Stroll took eighth for Aston Martin benefitting from the better strategy, a two stopper, compared to his teammate Sebastian Vettel who was tenth.

The Aston Martin drivers were split by Daniel Ricciardo, who scored point for McLaren on his last race with the team keeping a late charging Vettel at bay.

How the race unraveled

The field was off to a clean start, all cars making it into the first corner in one piece, while the Red Bull pair kept their positions while Charles Leclerc started an early attack on Sergio Perez.

Lewis Hamilton starting from fifth, overtook the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, but the Spaniard came back at him at Turn 6, the Mercedes driver taking to the run-off area, bouncing in the air, and rejoining ahead of the Ferrari.

“I overtook him. He needs to give me the position,” said Sainz over the radio. “Super unfair. He did exactly the same last year.”

The Stewards looked into the incident, but deemed no further investigation required, but upon further pressure from Ferrari, the seven-time World Champion was asked to give his position back to Sainz.

Hamilton duly did, but kept himself strategically in DRS zone, retaking fourth in no time and set on hunting Charles Leclerc in third. George Russell in the other Mercedes had a bad start and lost places but by Lap 6 was back to his starting position, sixth.

At the front, Max Verstappen starting building the gap from his teammate in second, the latter doing the same to Leclerc in third, all three not within DRS range.

By Lap 8 however, Sainz took his fourth place back from Hamilton, while down the order, Sebastian Vettel was battling Esteban Ocon in the Alpine for eighth place.

With Sainz overtaking Hamilton, Russell was the car chasing the #44 Mercedes, and was given the green light to pass and was past Hamilton, and set off behind Sainz.

Hamilton soon radioed the team: ” I’m losing power man, what’s going on?!”, who seemed to be struggling with pace and grip, going off track several times. Maybe some damage from his earlier incident with Sainz?

Hamilton was soon told he had two strikes for exceeding track limits, as he told his team: “There’s something up with the car.”

Up front Leclerc was slowly edging closer towards Perez, and was within shooting range, but Red Bull pit the Mexican on Lap 16 going for the undercut, a set of Hard tyres bolted on the #11 Red Bull.

Russell also pitted on the same lap, having earlier informed his team his front tyres were gone, it was a slow stop for the Briton, after problems with his rear right tyre, and was sent out in the path of Lando Norris, also in the pits.

Ferrari called Sainz into the pits on lap 18, he was running fourth, and was out on track with Hard tyres as well, and rejoining in seventh.

In the meantime, Verstappen was out in front leading comfortably and driving his own race, leading by over seven seconds.

Hamilton dived into the on lap 19, and took a set of Hard tyres. A clean stop for the Briton, but Mercedes had other worries as Russell was under investigation for his unsafe release earlier.

Russell was slapped with a five-second penalty for his incident in the pits with Lando Norris.

By lap twenty, race leader Verstappen radioed his team: “My front right is *****,” and he was in the next lap for new boots, and rejoining behind the non-stopping Leclerc in second and ahead of his teammate.

Ferrari called in Leclerc on lap 22, but he joined third behind the Red Bull of Perez, meaning the undercut worked for the Mexican.

A bit back Vettel was till running on his Medium tyres, while Ocon whom he was fighting earlier went for the undercut. By lap 23, the German was up to fifth but being caught by cars that have pitted earlier. What’s Aston Martin’s game plan?

Vettel kept losing places and was not happy, saying to his team: “It’s the worst, we are just getting eaten up by everybody, we are a sitting duck. Who is next?”

He’s informed all other drivers that overtook him were on two-stop strategies, but was soon called to pit on lap 26, rejoined in 19th going to the end on his new Hard tyres.

By lap 28, Fernando Alonso, as has been the trend this season retired the #14 Alpine. 2023 can’t come soon enough for the Spaniard. The team asked him to retire the car for a mechanical issue.

In the lead, Verstappen was taking care of his tyres clearly on a one stop strategy, as opposed to Perez who will need to pit again after his early stop to undercut Leclerc, who by lap 32 was edging closer.

By lap 34, Red Bull called Perez into the pits, while Ferrari instructed Leclerc to do the opposite. The Mexican took another set of new Hard tyres and joined on a clear track in P6.

Just after Perez’s second stop, Verstappen was instructed to increase his tyre management to ensure he could make it to the end on one stop.

Soon after that, Ferrari asked Leclerc if he can maintain the same pace for longer to go for plan C. Leclerc confirmed. One stopper, two with Softs at the end? Ferrari and their plans…

Red Bull informed Perez that Leclerc may be attempting a one stopper as the Perez was down in sixth banging in some fast laps over 16s behind Leclerc.

Just as matters seemed to be settling a bit, Nicholas Latifi and Mick Schumacher got tangled up together at Turn 5, bringing out a brief Yellow flag. The pair managed to get going with Latifi clearly suffering damage on his Williams.

The replay showed the Schumacher tapped the rear left tyre of Latifi sending both into a spin. The German was duly given a five-second penalty.

By Lap 40, Russell was in the pits, and serving his penalty, as Sainz also entered for his second stop as well, as Leclerc started losing speed on his Hard tyres, can plan C work? Whatever that is…

Going back to retiring Champion Vettel, he was knocking on the door of the top ten by lap 43, chasing Zhou Guanyu in the Alfa Romeo for tenth.

Back to the runner up fight, by lap 44 Ferrari informed Leclerc that he needs to stop again, or risk being overtaking by Perez who was fourth at the instant, almost ten seconds behind, and flying.

By lap 46, Perez overtook Hamilton for third and set his sight on catching and passing Leclerc who was second, as Verstappen radioed the team: “Yeah the tyres are good.

“Just tell Checo to go full send, the tyres will be fine,” he added. Now that’s helping your teammate.

With eight laps remaining, Perez was under seven seconds behind the #16 Ferrari that was asked to save tyres in Turn 3. Enough time?

In the back, Vettel’s one-stop strategy backfired, as he was overtaken by teammate Lance Stroll, on a two-stop strategy and was out of the points.

Perez kept on pushing, chasing Leclerc, his team informing him he will be in striking distance in the final lap, so one lap to make his move.

On Lap 56, Lewis Hamilton suffered a hydraulic problem and lost shifts and was out of the race. That meant Vettel scored points after all as he as back in the top ten and chasing Daniel Ricciardo for ninth.

In the final lap, Perez was 1.7s behind Leclerc, but it was too late, he couldn’t catch him.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Provisional Results