F1 – Abu Dhabi GP – Race
Salam, MiniFans! The last race of a season is always reason for both joy and sadness. It’s still a Formula 1 race, with twenty drivers going all out to finish in front of the others, but it’s also the beginning of the winter break. But above all, some season finishers serve as a giant farewell to some of the sport’s greatest talents. We’re saying goodbye to a handful of drivers, but Sebastian Vettel stands out in this group. The four-time world champion is parting ways with F1 after a very long stint in order to spend more time with his family, so all we can say to him is: Danke, Seb!
A very clean start welcomed us to the final 58 laps of 2022. Sainz lost his position with Hamilton and he tried to recover it, but a very similar incident to last year’s with Verstappen, where Sainz was in front while Hamilton left the track and bounced off one of the kerbs, reclaiming his position in front of the Ferrari. Hamilton was asked to give the position back due to gaining and advantage off the track and he swiftly did, going back to the fight on the following lap to regain it once again.
However, Ferrari wasn’t about to give up, and Sainz managed to once again get past the seven-time world champion, leaving him to fight his own teammate as the Spaniard blasted off in pursuit of Leclerc. Russell got past easily once he was given the green light to battle as Hamilton complained about loss of power over radio. Meanwhile, the biggest battle was for 8th, with Ocon, Vettel and Alonso carefully manoeuvring to try and get to the front of their small group.
The stops started early, as drivers tried to get rid of traffic, and messages started to be heard about teams considering strategy changes. Pérez got called for hards and he was unlucky enough to leave the pits right in between Vettel and Alonso, needing a handful of corners to get past the German driver. The fresh tyres, even if harder, proved to be faster than the mediums everyone was already complaining about. The only one who didn’t pit in this first batch at the front was Vettel, hinting at taking a risk for the one-stop strategy, while Russell got handed a five-second penalty for an unsafe release.
Having split apart from Vettel after pitting, Alonso started to make his way back up the order after his stop, overtaking Tsunoda as Vettel finally changed his tyres too, but the Alpine driver wouldn’t last long on track, as his race engineer asked him to retire the car due to some power issues at the midpoint of the race. Back at the front, Leclerc was closing the gap to the Red Bulls and was instructed to pit opposite them, so he stayed out when Pérez went it, who soon lowered the fastest lap of the race, setting an infernal pace to get back to the front and to Leclerc, who sounded like he’d take the risk to try and go to the end on his hard tyres, avoiding a second stop.
A sudden yellow flag caused by Latifi and Schumacher worried the teams, but both cars got away quickly and the brief interruption was over without any consequence apart from a time penalty for the Haas. Russell and Sainz changed their tyres together, as Leclerc was left out alone and Pérez sought reassurance as so whether he’d be able to get to his rival in the championship. His tyre advantage was already obvious as he fought Hamilton, who seemed to be reliving the Red Bull’s defensive driving from last season and didn’t back down from the fight, managing to keep him behind for a bit over a lap.
However, Red Bull’s advantage of pace and speed over the Mercedes imposed itself and Pérez started his hunt of Leclerc, being reassured by Verstappen’s message about the tyres being resilient, as his were more than double the age due to not having stopped again. Behind them, Hamilton was starting to struggle as Sainz got closer every sector, but the battle was stopped before it even began due to a hydraulic problem with Hamilton’s car.
The last five laps were a nail-biting finale, with Pérez slowly but surely chipping away at the distance to the Ferrari. However, the lapped cars were enough of a nuisance to only allow him to reach Leclerc on the very last lap, as he had been told earlier on the radio. However, the Mexican driver’s efforts weren’t enough while Ferrari and Leclerc managed to get away with just one stop, as the championship finished in the same order of the podium: Verstappen, Leclerc and Pérez.
The end of year party’s festivities were slightly dampened due to the absence of both Alonso and Hamilton, arguably Vettel’s greatest rivals, but they still were a celebration of the German driver’s career, as the whole weekend has been. The 2022 season has come to an end after a great year of racing, with a new team inheriting the constructors championship from Mercedes, as Verstappen has settled down with a second consecutive title and finished the season on a high note, with yet another victory.