The final race of a thrilling 2022 is here as the season comes to a close with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The championship winners may already have been decided but there’s still plenty to play for, so here are some of the key talking points heading to Yas Marina…
1. The fight for second
A dramatic race in Brazil left two drivers unhappy that they finished directly behind their team mates, but it has set up the final round beautifully when it comes to the battle for second place overall.
Just as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were tied on points heading to Abu Dhabi a year ago, this time around it’s the runner-up honours on the line between Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez.
It’s Leclerc who is ranked ahead based on his number of wins but both have 290 points, meaning whoever finishes ahead – as long as it’s inside the top 10 – will secure second place.
But it’s not just in the drivers’ championship that second is still to be decided, as Mercedes’ one-two in Brazil – their first since Imola in 2020 – leaves them just 19 points behind Ferrari.
That’s a big gap to close, but Mercedes had threatened to claim their first win of the year in both Austin and Mexico City before securing the result at Interlagos, and they outscored Ferrari by 17 points last weekend with Carlos Sainz third and Leclerc in fourth.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Racing
2. Millions up for grabs
Elsewhere, the final constructors’ championship positions are anyone’s guess due to a number of extremely tight battles still to be decided. Alpine moved comfortably clear of McLaren in Brazil, but even that fight could still turn around with 19 points between them.
Alfa Romeo hold sixth place for now and are five points ahead of a resurgent Aston Martin, while Kevin Magnussen’s eighth place in the Sprint at Interlagos – after his stunning maiden pole position – moved Haas two points clear of AlphaTauri in the battle for P8.
The implications are significant, with the difference between each position equating to millions in prize money that can be used by the teams to try and improve their performance in future years, as well as bonuses and rewards for team members who have worked so hard all season.
3. Farewell to Seb
A remarkable career for one of Formula 1’s greatest drivers comes to a close this weekend, as Sebastian Vettel makes his 299th and final start in Grand Prix racing.
Vettel burst onto the scene in spectacular fashion as a Red Bull junior, and his win at Monza for Toro Rosso in 2008 will live just as long in the memory as his four consecutive drivers’ championships from 2010-13 that leave him alongside Alain Prost on the all-time list. Only Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio have more.
After a spell emulating his idol Schumacher by winning races for Ferrari, Vettel has still delivered some excellent performances and results since joining Aston Martin to help their attempts to become a frontrunner in F1, while simultaneously becoming an outstanding ambassador for the sport that has only increased his popularity among fans.
Vettel’s also been providing some brilliant action in his final season after a stunning fight with Kevin Magnussen in Austin just a few races ago, and we get to enjoy watching his skills one last time this weekend in Abu Dhabi.
4. The Haas driver decision
Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner has been keeping his cards close to his chest when it comes to the second seat at his team for next year alongside Magnussen, but a decision is imminent.
While Steiner was keen to stress he wasn’t going to make any promises when it came to the timing of an announcement, he did reveal in Brazil that the aim was to confirm the team’s 2023 line-up ahead of this weekend’s race.
It has been a straight choice between Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg, with Haas keen to build on an encouraging start to the new era of Formula 1 after scoring regular points and even achieving their first-ever pole position courtesy of Magnussen at Interlagos last time out.
The smart money is on Hulkenberg getting the nod and if that proves true then it’ll be a poignant weekend for Schumacher as it’s the last race seat to be confirmed for next year and would leave him without a spot on the grid. But whoever gets the nod, if an announcement comes before the race weekend gets under way, then there will be plenty of focus and opinions on the decision.
5. Drivers in new cars
It’s not just Vettel who will be saying some goodbyes in Abu Dhabi, as a number of other drivers are getting ready to make changes. It is set to be the last race for Daniel Ricciardo for at least a year as he looks set to take a reserve driver role in 2023 before targeting a comeback the following season, while Nicholas Latifi will also leave the grid at the end of this season after three years at Williams.
While both of those drivers won’t be racing in F1 next year, Fernando Alonso gets ready to round off his latest spell with the Enstone-based team as he leaves Alpine for Aston Martin after Sunday’s race, and Pierre Gasly similarly has an emotional farewell to the AlphaTauri team he has called home for the majority of his F1 career before replacing the Spaniard.
Alonso and Gasly will both be in fresh overalls just 36 hours after the Grand Prix as they test for their new teams on Tuesday, with Nyck de Vries jumping in Gasly’s seat to begin his preparations as a 2023 AlphaTauri driver, and Logan Sargeant doing the same at Williams.
We’ll get to see Oscar Piastri in the 2022 McLaren for the first time during the test and Felipe Drugovich has both an FP1 debut and day of testing to look forward to for Aston Martin, PLUS any potential Haas change will surely see some running in the test. The 2022 season might be about to end, but we get a sneak preview at 2023 just two days later…