Drama at Red Bull, title battles galore and a legend bids farewell – Why there’s plenty to ponder before the sun sets on the 2022 season
Formula 1’s great and good have descended on Yas Marina – host last year of one of the most dramatic race weekends in the sport’s history – for this season-closing event in reflective mood.
This has been a remarkable season, one where Max Verstappen delivered one of the most comprehensive title defences the sport has ever seen, driving one of the most dominant cars to have graced this championship in the form of the Red Bull RB18.
Ferrari may have failed to sustain a title challenge, but they have made a big step forward in terms of performance, while Mercedes finally got their first 2022 victory on the board last time out in Brazil, with George Russell taking a maiden win ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton.
That has raised hopes that this weekend can deliver a cracking race, one where potentially it’s a three-team fight for the final honour of the year.
And it’s the racing Red Bull are hoping becomes the main story after they released a statement on Thursday where they admitted having made mistakes in Brazil with the way they handled the team orders strategy.
Max Verstappen refused to give P6 back to Sergio Perez, as requested by the team to help the Mexican’s bid for P2 in the drivers’ championship. The duo discussed it afterwards, with Verstappen saying he would help Perez in Abu Dhabi, adding on Thursday that he and Checo have “a good relationship”.
And that is one of the most intriguing fights that will reach a conclusion this weekend, with Charles Leclerc and Perez level on points in the fight for P2 (Leclerc ahead based on a higher win tally). On pure performance, Checo should win out – but if Ferrari can recapture their strong qualifying form, that’ll haul their charge into contention.
P2 in the constructors’ is worth a watch, too, with Mercedes – having seemingly looked out of the chase to beat Ferrari – now just 19 behind after securing their first one-two in two years last time out in Brazil.
Further down, the same gap separates Alpine and McLaren in the fight for fourth, while only five split Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin for P6, and two separate Haas and AlphaTauri for P8. Plenty of scores to settle, then.
There are also some leaving gifts to hand out, with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel calling time on his illustrious career, the German organising a track run on Saturday evening for the entire paddock to take part in.
Nicholas Latifi will bid farewell to F1 having lost his Williams seat, while Mick Schumacher will likely not be on the grid next year having been replaced by Nico Hulkenberg at Haas – but is pushing to find a way to stay involved, with a role as Mercedes reserve a distinct possibility.
Of course, we can’t forget Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian set to leave McLaren after two years. The Australian plans to take a year out, potentially dovetailing it with a reserve role with a team – most likely Red Bull – before deciding if a full-time racing return is possible for 2024.
And then there are last races for drivers before they move onto pastures new, Pierre Gasly bringing a near decade’s stay with Red Bull to a close in favour of joining Alpine. The Frenchman is sad to leave an AlphaTauri team that has helped rebuild his reputation and a team mate in Yuki Tsunoda with whom he has developed a strong friendship. But he knows that Alpine offers him the chance to take the next step in his career and fight for podiums regularly.
Fernando Alonso is leaving that seat at Alpine to take Vettel’s vacant seat at Aston Martin, the double world champion having said multiple times that he can’t wait to get going with his new project while also maintaining that he isn’t taking his eye off this year as his team fight to take P4 in the constructors’ championship.
So before the paddock heads off for a winter break, we’ve got plenty to look forward to. Let the final race of 2022 begin!