Formula 1: Finishing on a High


Max Verstappen races to another huge win to cap off the 2022 season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Last week, Formula 1 rounded out its 2022 season with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Heading into the final race of the season, Max Verstappen and Red Bull had already clinched the driver’s and constructor’s championships, but there was still a fight for second place. Both Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc were tied on points, which meant that whoever finished ahead of the other would secure the runners up spot in the driver’s championship. As for the constructor’s championship, there was a chance for Mercedes to finish runners-up if they could outscore Ferrari by 20 points, which was possible albeit a longshot.

When it came time for qualifying, Verstappen put his Red Bull on pole with Perez in second to make it a Red Bull front row lockout. Behind the Red Bull 1-2, it was a second row Ferrari lockout with Leclerc in third ahead of his teammate Carlos Sainz. The lockouts continued with a third row lockout with Lewis Hamilton in fifth and George Russell in sixth.

When the lights went out on Sunday, Verstappen got away cleanly with Perez and Leclerc following suit. Hamilton was able to get ahead of Sainz, albeit controversially by going off the track, and was eventually told to give the position back. On lap five, Hamilton was able to regain the position fairly. However, Sainz retook the position a few laps later on lap eight. Hamilton’s night worsened with Russell overtaking the seven-time champion a lap later, with the Briton on the radio telling the engineers that there was an issue with the engine.

Meanwhile in the front, Verstappen had a steady gap to Perez in second. As it stood, Perez would finish second in the standings. On lap 15, Perez pitted with Russell also pitting on the same lap. Unfortunately, Russell had a slow stop and was released into the path of Lando Norris, which earned the Mercedes a time penalty (to be served at the next pit stop). Sainz pitted on lap 17, with Hamilton following suit on lap 18. Verstappen also pitted on lap 20 with Leclerc pitting a lap after on lap 21. After the first round of pit stops, Verstappen was still leading from Perez in second with Leclerc in third, Sainz in fourth, Russell in fifth and Hamilton still in sixth.

After the pit stops, Leclerc was starting to gain on Perez, and it was clear that another stop would be necessary. On lap 33, Perez pitted again with Leclerc being told to do the opposite of Perez, which meant that he was staying out. Perez came out of the pits down into sixth. At this point, it seemed as if Ferrari were going to have Leclerc on a one stop and have him finish the race on his current set of tires, giving Perez a tough task of reeling in the Ferrari car with fresher tires. Both Sainz and Russell pitted on lap 39, promoting Perez up to fourth. Hamilton was now in third but only three seconds ahead of Perez and on older and slower tires.

On lap 46, Perez finally cleared Hamilton for third place and was now chasing Leclerc who was around nine seconds ahead with 12 laps remaining. As the laps started to wind down, the gap was also closing. With five laps left, Perez was 4.5 seconds behind Leclerc. Meanwhile, Sainz was also catching Hamilton. On lap 56 with two laps to go, both Sainz and Russell were able to pass Hamilton who slowed down and had to retire from the race due to a hydraulics issue. This meant that for the first time in his career, Hamilton concluded a season without a race win.

After 58 laps, Verstappen cruised to the chequered flag to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with Leclerc in second and Perez rounding out the podium, meaning that Leclerc finished runners up in the driver’s championship with Perez three points behind the Ferrari driver in third place. Ferrari also finished second in the constructor’s standings, with Mercedes unable to outscore them by the required points. This was another dominating drive by the reigning champion, making it his record-extending 15th win of the season. Verstappen also broke a record by finishing with 454 points, the most by a driver in a single season. A truly dominating season to easily defend his crown.

With the end of another Formula 1 season, we say goodbye to several faces in the paddock. Nicholas Latifi has left Williams with the outfit replacing the driver with Logan Sargeant, who was in their driver academy and finished fourth in the 2022 Formula 2 championship. He will be the first American driver in the sport since 2015. Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, is also leaving Haas and being replaced with Nico Hulkenberg, who last fully competed in the sport in 2019. Daniel Ricciardo has also left McLaren but has rejoined Red Bull as their third driver after not being able to secure a full racing seat next year. McLaren replaced Ricciardo with rookie Oscar Piastri. Last but not least, Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement from the sport. A four-time drivers champion, Vettel raced with Toro Rosso (now known as Alpha Tauri), Red Bull, Ferrari and now Aston Martin and was a fan favorite of the paddock. Vettel is one of the few drivers in history to have won four driver titles in a row from 2010-2013. He has set numerous racing records and has cemented his place as one of the greatest drivers of all time. He is being replaced at Aston Martin by Fernando Alonso, who’s leaving Alpine after two seasons with the French team. Alpine has replaced Alonso with Pierre Gasly, who’s leaving Alpha Tauri and the Red Bull program and is being replaced with another rookie in Nyck de Vries.

With the 2022 season in the book, the teams are now looking forward to the 2023 season with all of their attention now towards the pre-season testing which will occur between Feb. 23-25. Red Bull will be looking to defend their constructor’s title from the rest of the grid, with Verstappen aiming to win his third consecutive title. Mercedes will want to bounce back after a poor season by their standards as they look to take the fight to Red Bull. Ferrari will also want to bounce back after seeing their title hopes quickly evaporate despite having the faster car at the start of the season. With an expanded season and a record high 24 races, including a return to Las Vegas, China and Qatar, expect more battles as the teams continue to develop their cars as they all battle for podiums, wins and championships in one of the most technologically advanced sports in the world.