Verstappen cruises to final victory of 2022 in Abu Dhabi


Red Bull's Max Verstappen had little trouble closing out a historic season with his 15th Grand Prix win of the year after a comfortable, dominant performance in Abu Dhabi.

Charles Leclerc could breath a sigh of relief by finishing in second, making him the runner-up in the drivers championship ahead of Sergio Perez who battled hard but ultimately ran out of laps to press the attack on Sunday.

Carlos Sainz just missed out on the podium in fourth ahead of George Russell and Lando Norris, while Sebastian Vettel closed out his F1 career with one final top ten finish.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton retired with a hydraulic issue in the closing laps, while Fernando Alonso suffered yet another DNF with a suspected water leak in his final outing with Alpine.

The sun was setting over Yas Marina and over the 2022 Formula 1 championship as a whole as the cars headed to the grid. The front three rows lined up two-by-two, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez on the front row, followed by Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, and then by Mercedes team mates Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, all starting on medium tyres. That was also the order of the three teams at the top of the constructors standings, giving the season finale a sense of an exhibition race rather than a Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 leads at the start of the race. 20.11.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, Race

But underneath there was still a lot to be fought over and decided: would Perez beat Leclerc in their battle over the runners-up spot in the drivers championship? Could Mercedes find any way of catching Ferrari? Would Alpine hold on to fourth place in the teams battle? And on top of that there were final bows for Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi (potential comebacks notwithstanding). And of course there was a trophy to be taken, which is always enough to get Verstappen going at maximum power.

The floodlights were already shining bright when the starting lights went out, with Perez getting a good start to go down the inside of Verstappen but he wasn't able to hold the position through the first corner, leaving him briefly exposed to an attack from Leclerc. Hamilton initially got the better of Sainz but did so by exceeding track limits, resulting in an order from race control to hand the place back. Meanwhile McLaren's Lando Norris had picked off Russell for sixth. with Esteban Ocon, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso rounding out the top ten.

The Red Bulls started to pull away from Leclerc and the rest of the field. The Ferraris were already suffering tyre degradation after just five laps, allowing Hamilton to quickly recapture the place he had just been forced to hand back. Similarly, Russell had recovered the spot he'd dropped to Norris and was now hunting down Sainz in fifth. But two laps later the pendulum seemed to swing the other way and now it was Hamilton losing pace, making it easy for Sainz to recapture fourth and leaving Hamilton exposed to Russell, who was able to breeze past through turn 9 after checking with the Mercedes pit wall that he was free to race.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A522 makes a pit stop. 20.11.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, Race

By lap 11, Verstappen had pulled out a comfortable 3.2s lead over Perez, who was being reeled in by Leclerc in turn. Sainz was told by the Ferrari team that the degradation on the mediums was less than expected, which earned a swift "I don't agree" retort from the Spaniard. Meanwhile Hamilton was now a second a lap off the pace of the leaders after reporting a loss of power, which his chief engineer suggested was due to a battery problem. Further back, Vettel was applying the screws on Ocon for eighth and right behind them Alonso was lurking ready to pounce given the slightest invitation.

Ocon ducked out of this battle by being the first of the top ten to pit on lap 15 for a set of the hard compound. Russell was simultaneously telling his team that his front tyres were shot, and both Perez and Russell pitted on lap 16. Russell suffered a slow stop with a sticky right rear and ended up pulling out right into the path of Norris who had also come in. They miraculously avoided a hard collision but Russell incurred a five second penalty for an unsafe release. Perez meanwhile had emerged in traffic and went deep into the chicane trying to pass Vettel, costing him valuable seconds. Ferrari were slow to take advantage but finally pitted Sainz on lap 18, while Hamilton came in for service on lap 19 and commented that his floor might be broken from running wide on the first lap.

Alonso and Ricciardo came in on lap 20, and next time it was Verstappen's turn to pit after complaining that his front right was shot. After that it was Leclerc in for the hard tyres, returning Verstappen to the top spot with his lead over Perez trimmed to two seconds. Leclerc rejoined in third ahead of Sainz, with Russell fifth but still carrying that five second penalty. He was followed by Vettel who was yet to stop, and was soon passed by Hamilton with Norris next to catch and pass the Aston Martin. Ocon and Lance Stroll completed the top ten.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR22. 20.11.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, Race

Haemorrhaging positions, Vettel finally pitted on lap 26 and dropped all the way back to P19 by the time he rejoined after locking up at pit exit. It left him relying on everyone else going for a two-stop strategy. Undaunted, he put his fresh tyres to effective use with quick passes on Kevin Magnussen, Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas. At least his day was going better than Alonso, who had crawled into the pits on lap 28 after suffering a suspected water leak - another DNF from yet more terminal technical problems in his last outing with Alpine.

Verstappen was still around two seconds ahead of Perez, but the pair were gradually being caught by Leclerc. Verstappen responded and picked up the pace, but Perez seemed unable to do likewise and opted to pit on lap 34 with Leclerc told by Ferrari to do the opposite and stay out. Verstappen's spurt earned him a caution from the Red Bull pit wall who ordered him to prioritise tyre management, frustrating the Dutch driver who was seeing Leclerc grow larger and larger in his wing mirrors.

The race was becoming a cagey game of cat-and-mouse as to when (or if) to make a second stop, and what sets of tyres each driver had remaining from their allocation to switch on to. An incident between Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi at turn 5 on lap 39 put the Williams into the barrier and left the Haas driver with a five second penalty but crucially failed to produce a safety car that could have triggered a mass jump to pit lane, but Sainz opted to come in on lap 40 to switch back to mediums.

Race winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 at the end of the race. 20.11.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, Race

The top three - Verstappen, Leclerc and Hamilton - were all yet to stop, but Perez was rapidly closing the gap and already ahead of Sainz, Russell, Norris, Ocon and Ricciardo. Lap 46 saw Perez strike at Hamilton, but he locked up in the process allowing Hamilton to recover the position at turn 9 despite the Red Bull's evident speed advantage. Perez made no mistakes next lap round and finally picked up third place, but it had cost the Mexican crucial time. He was still ten seconds behind Leclerc with only 11 laps still to go. Verstappen - eight seconds further ahead - was showing no signs of slowing down to hold up Leclerc and make it easier for Perez to catch them, for fear of giving the Ferrari the benefit of DRS.

Russell had stopped again, served his penalty and switched to medium tyres and was still in sixth place ahead of Norris who had also stopped for a second time. Hamilton meanwhile had been pleading to be allowed to stop a second time, but was told by the Mercedes team that it would cost him multiple positions if he did so at this late stage despite Sainz being eight seconds behind. The Ferrari used its newer tyres to slash through the deficit, and getting held up by backmarkers meant Hamilton's advantage was further cut bringing him within DRS range with four laps remaining. In the end the matter was taken out of his hands by a hydraulic failure on the Mercedes on lap 56.

Perez was continuing to catch Leclerc, but he was running out of laps. In the end he fell 1.3s short at the line, meaning that the Ferrari driver had succeeded in snatching the runners-up position in the drivers championship from Perez. "Yes mate, we got it! Good job guys, good race, really good race!" the Monegasque said over the team radio. Sainz just missed out on the podium followed by Russell, Norris, Ocon and Stroll. The top ten was completed with points going to Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in their final F1 outings, at least for the time being.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR22 - donuts at the end of the race. 20.11.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, Race

Vettel joined the top three in celebrating the end of the season by performing donuts on the start/finish straight, evoking huge cheers from the fans in the grandstand.

With Hamilton's late retirement, Sainz finished in P5 in the drivers championship ahead of the Briton, with Ferrari comfortably securing second place in the constructors standings from Mercedes. Alpine clinched P4 from McLaren and Alfa Romeo took sixth despite finishing on equal points with Aston Martin.

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