Formula One rolled into Abu Dhabi this week with both 2022 championships resolved with just a few minor spats remaining. Perez and LeClerc are battling over P2 in the drivers’ championship and while the McLaren/Alpine fight for P4 appears to be over Aston Martin are hunting down Alfa Romeo and Haas fighting off Alpha Tauri.
This is a far cry from last seasons final F1 weekend where Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were destined to go wheel to wheel in a championship decider.
The epic 2021 Abu Dhabi GP
First blood went to Verstappen who topped the timesheets in qualifying and was a huge 0.4 seconds quicker than Lewis. Yet Hamilton had gained an advantage by locking in his race start on the medium more durable Pirelli tyre. Verstappen had gone counter and would start on the quicker but less durable soft tyre.
In the third and final qualifying session, Verstappen was able to use the slipstream of his teammate Sergio Perez to claim pole position for the race, with Hamilton only able to take the second spot on the grid.
The race start saw Hamilton take the lead from the off but at turn 6 Verstappen attempted to regain the lead. Hamilton ran off the track and rejoined ahead of the Red Bull driver and the team protested to race control. Their request for the Mercedes driver to give back the position was denied as race director Michael Massi decided Hamilton had ultimately given back any advantage he’d gained.
Hamilton builds a lead
Lewis then used the advantage of his more durable medium tyre compound to build a lead Verstappen whose softer tyres began to degrade quickly.
The remainder of the race was on the whole a less than remarkable affair. Verstappen pitted on lap 13 for the hard tyre compound and Lewis covered him off a lap later fitting the same compound.
This promoted Sergio Perez to the lead of the race but Hamilton on fresher rubber caught the Mexican driver within 6 laps pop the pit stop.
Verstappen was over 11 seconds behind Hamilton after the pit stops but a spirited defence from Perez against Hamilton’s Mercedes allowed Max to close the gap to 1.3 seconds by the time Lewis finally retook the lead.
Hamilton then set about building the lead again but on lap 35, Antonio Giovinazzi retired his car alongside the track due to gearbox issues, which triggered a brief virtual safety car period. Red Bull pitted Verstappen for fresh hard tyres but Mercedes directed Hamilton to stay out and protect his track position.
Mercedes dither over fresh tyres for Hamilton
Verstappen was able to be reducing the 17 second deficit when the VSC was withdrawn though not at the required rate to catch Hamilton before the end of the race.
On lap 53 of 58 Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams car ago turn 14 while fighting for position with Mick Schumacher and this brought out the safety car.
Red Bull immediately called in Verstappen for a fresh set of soft rubber but Mercedes decided against giving Lewis new tyres. The decision was strange given Mercedes could have called Lewis in, changed his tyres and sent him out still in the lead of the race.
There were 5 lapped cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen and initially all the lapped cars were informed they would not be permitted to overtake. However, as the Marshalls had cleared the debris from Latifi’s Williams race director Michael Massi instructed only the 5 lapped cars ahead of Verstappen to Dunlap themselves and overtake Hamilton.
Wolff hurls his microphone
The safety car was then withdrawn allowing one final lap of racing. Verstappen was now right behind Lewis Hamilton on the new soft rubber and at turn 5 easily passed the struggling Mercedes of Hamilton. Max took the chequered flag and his first F1 world title while Hamilton was distraught at failing to clinch a record 8th F1 title.
Over the radio, Wolff appealed to Masi to reinstate the order of the penultimate lap, to which Masi gave the reply: “Toto, it’s called a motor race, ok? We went car racing.”
Wolff and Hamilton refused to attend the FIA end of season gala the following week in protest and the debate over Massi’s decision occupied the fans on social media for weeks.
Returning this week to the venue of Verstappen’s ‘glorious’ victory over Hamilton, Red Bull clearly decided to rub salt in the wound of their arch rivals.
📍 Turn 5, Yas Marina Circuit 🥰 pic.twitter.com/wpr2FrKkT2
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) November 17, 2022
Red Bull taunt Mercedes
The Oracle Red Bull Racing twitter feed posted a picture of the final lap overtake with the text, “Turn 5, overtake” followed by a smiling face surrounded by love hearts.
Mercedes won their first race of the season last week in Brazil and in the FP1 session on Friday morning Hamilton was quickest with Russell behind him in P2.
Verstappen had surfende his car to young driver Liam Lawson so didn’t set a time, but Sergio Perez was over 0.3 seconds slower than the lead Mercedes in P4 behind Charles LeClerc.
Logan Sargeant spins it, but keeps it out of the wall! pic.twitter.com/zZJYNEhGEm
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) November 18, 2022