Abu Dhabi's final reminder that 2022 is the year of Max Verstappen: F1 race report


Max Verstappen gave a final demonstration of his overwhelming dominance in 2022 with victory in the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but Sergio Perez lost second place in the championship to Charles Leclerc — as Sebastian Vettel bowed out

Max Verstappen raises his arms in victory as he stands on his Red Bull after the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Verstappen was dominant in 2022

Mario Renzi/F1 via Getty Images

A final lap showdown, with a Red Bull closing in on a Ferrari, and two drivers level on points. It’s how the 2022 season threatened to be decided earlier this year. Instead, it was the perfect scenario but for the wrong place as the runner-up honours came down to the final three miles of the season.

It wasn’t the drama or controversy of last season, with Max Verstappen having long-since wrapped up his second championship, but it still was talked up by the main protagonists in the form of Sergio Perez – starting second behind his team-mate – and Charles Leclerc from third.

The opening lap was calm for the front three but Carlos Sainz was slow away from fourth, allowing the two Mercedes drivers behind to attack. Lewis Hamilton was through by Turn 1 but George Russell was baulked, losing momentum and seeing Lando Norris sweep by.

Max Verstappen leads at the start of the 2022 Abu Dhabi GP

Verstappen leads from pole

Lewis Hamilton runs off track at the start of the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Hamilton runs wide in battle with Sainz

With strategic variations few and far between — all started on the medium compound except for Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas on hard tyres, plus Pierre Gasly on softs — any moves needed to be done on track quickly and there was a moment of déjà vu as Hamilton saw Sainz lunge down the inside into Turn 6 on the opening lap and make the corner as the Mercedes bounced over a run-off kerb and cut the apex of Turn 7 to rejoin ahead.

The incident was noted, investigated, cleared for forcing a driver off track, then re-investigated for Hamilton leaving the track and gaining an advantage. It was at this point Mercedes ordered the seven-time world champion to give the position back to Sainz, which he did at the end of lap four.

By Turn 9 on the following lap, Hamilton was through again using DRS around the outside of Sainz, setting off after Leclerc ahead and looking a threat in terms of race pace.

That threat didn’t last long though, as Hamilton soon started losing competitiveness and slipped behind both Sainz and Russell.

Lewis Hamilton leads George Russell in the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Hamilton’s troubled Mercedes couldn’t stay ahead of Russell’s

Jiri Krenek/Mercedes-AMG

“I’m losing power man, what’s going on?” came the radio message, adding “There’s something up with the car mate,” after running wide at Turn 1 for a second time.

The main fight at this point was between Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel — in his final race — for eighth place, with the Aston Martin attacking around the outside of Turn 9 on multiple occasions but failing to make a move stick.

Ocon was one of the first drivers into the pits on lap 14 as a two-stopper looked the most likely strategy due to high levels of degradation and front graining, with Perez and Russell — the latter saying “Fronts are gone, consider Plan B” — following suit a lap later.

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The focus had been on Perez as Leclerc closed in but, frustratingly for Russell, a slow right rear delayed him in the pitbox and when he was released it was into the path of the pitting Norris, earning the Mercedes driver a five-second time penalty.

Sainz had already stopped to cover off any threat from Russell and by the time Leclerc was the last driver of the top six to come in for hard tyres — one lap after Verstappen — he had a six-lap offset to Perez.

It was Vettel who was last in for his first stop after complaining about the strategy to his team, with the Aston Martin slipping backwards before pitting on lap 25. At least he was getting a slightly wider berth from some drivers, so keen were they to see him see the finish.

“I could feel that a little bit with Fernando [Alonso] – he was very, very generous at the beginning of the race,” Vettel said. “After that the Saubers fought very hard because they wanted to defend the constructors’. It was a shame I was stuck behind Esteban in the beginning because I felt I had better deg, but then we stayed out way too long and lost so much time.”

Sebastian Vettel leads Fernando Alonso in the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Cautious Alonso was wary of taking Vettel out at the start

Bryn Lennon/F1 via Getty Images

Sadly for Alonso, his final race with Alpine would come to a premature end with a suspected water leak two laps after Vettel’s stop, opening up the potential for Aston Martin to snatch sixth in the constructors’ from Alfa Romeo as it moved Lance Stroll into the points.

The fight for second overall was hotting up, though with Leclerc using his tyre advantage to close in on Perez, who was complaining that Verstappen — two seconds up the road — was holding him up. Such pace had Red Bull worried, so when Ferrari told its driver to pit and do the opposite to Perez, it was the Mexican who came in for a second stop, releasing Leclerc with 25 laps remaining.

In all honesty, it wasn’t a classic, but then nor was a year ago until Nicholas Latifi crashed chasing Mick Schumacher. This time around, Schumacher clumsily ran into the back of Latifi at Turn 5 to threaten to bring the race to life, but fortunately the spin into the barriers saw both continue, and there was no need for race director intervention beyond a five-second time penalty for the Haas driver.

Nicholas Latifi in the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Nicholas Latifi was blameless for clash with Mick Schumacher

Florent Gooden/DPPI

So the focus returned to Perez’s chase of Leclerc, as Red Bull assured its driver he would catch the Ferrari. But that didn’t take the also-one-stopping Hamilton into account, who was running third between them. With fewer than 15 laps to go, Perez closed in and overtook into Turn 6 but ran slightly deep, and Hamilton was able to use DRS to go round the outside into Turn 9 to regain the spot.

Perez was through a lap later, but it just bought Leclerc a bit more breathing space, with the gap needing to close by around a second per lap.

“The tyres are good,” Verstappen told his team via radio as he also attempted a one-stop race. “Just tell Checo to go full send, the tyres will be fine.”

Full send then came from Stroll who cleared first Vettel and then Daniel Ricciardo, pushing his team-mate out of the points. That was until Hamilton slowed with a hydraulics issue, retiring from fourth and promoting Vettel once again.

Lance Stroll in the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Stroll’s late-race charge saw him finish eighth

Bryn Lennon/F1 via Getty Images

No race interruptions were needed but Perez was running out of time. The gap was 5.4sec with six laps to go, then 4.6sec, then 3.7sec, then 2.8sec… It looked like coming down to the last corner until Perez was held up by Pierre Gasly — racing Alex Albon and Zhou Guanyu — to halt his momentum and he fell just over a second short.

“It’s how this sport really works,” Perez said. “You know, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Today I think Ferrari and Charles did a fantastic race. They have great tyre management. And they were stronger than us, especially on that first stint. I died towards the end. And that made it a little bit tricky, our strategy.

“And it was that second stint, while I was behind Max. Max was on a one-stop, I was on a two-stop, and then I ended-up not being able to maximise this stint, and I couldn’t push as much as we should have pushed on that second stint. But at the end of the day, we gave it all. And that’s what really matters.”

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez hold their Abu Dhabi GP trophies

‘We should have pushed more’, said Perez who missed out on second place in the championship

Red Bull

For Leclerc, it was at least a tiny consolation at the end of a season that had promised so much. And perhaps the biggest positive, credit where it’s due, was the Ferrari strategy that also ensured second in the constructors’ championship was confirmed ahead of Mercedes.

“I think today was a really, really perfect execution from our side,” Leclerc said. “I don’t think we had the pace of the Red Bulls still, and our goal from the beginning was to try and push Checo to do something different, which we did perfectly. And with a great tyre management, we made the one-stop work, which eventually got us the second place.”

Of course, it didn’t carry anywhere near the amount of tension as a title fight, and last year’s two contenders had contrasting nights. Hamilton was pleased the season was over after retiring – “it summed up my whole year” — while Verstappen extended his record for the most wins in a single season with a comfortable display.

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“It was all about tyre management,” Verstappen admitted. “I think we looked after the mediums quite well. And then on the hard tyres it was literally managing from lap one to the end, but incredible, to win again here and 15th win of the season is unbelievable.

“It’s been really enjoyable to work with the whole team and to be able to achieve something like this this year. I know it’s going to be hard to replicate something like this. But it’s also very good motivation to try and do well again next year.”

Not everyone has the same view as many drivers are moving on. Vettel bowed out with tenth place behind Ricciardo, the two crossing the line just 0.6sec apart. With Stroll in eighth, Ricciardo’s defence secured sixth in the constructors’ for Alfa Romeo courtesy of Valtteri Bottas’s fifth place in Imola, as one more point would have been enough for Aston.

Sebastian Vettel stands on his Aston Martin and wvaes to the crowd after his final F1 race at the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Vettel salutes the crowd at the scene of his first championship win in 2010

Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images

It was almost as nervy for Haas as it was never in contention for points and AlphaTauri came close with Yuki Tsunoda in 11th, but in the end it was Guenther Steiner’s team who held on for eighth overall by two points.

In the end, despite so many close battles through the year, all of the main positions remained unchanged, as Alpine retained fourth ahead of McLaren despite Norris coming home a solid sixth ahead of Ocon.

But it’s the battle that wasn’t close when all of the points are tallied up that stands out, as Verstappen’s 15th victory saw him win the title by 146 points. It’s a year that will take something remarkable for the Dutchman and Red Bull to replicate.

Fireworks explode as Max Verstappen wins the 2022 Abu Dhabi GP