Verstappen three-peat, Hamilton retirement and more things learned from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

An exciting season finale in Abu Dhabi saw Max Verstappen wrap up his stellar Formula One campaign with yet another race victory in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)
An exciting season finale in Abu Dhabi saw Max Verstappen wrap up his stellar Formula One campaign with yet another race victory in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 November 2022

Verstappen three-peat, Hamilton retirement and more things learned from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Verstappen three-peat, Hamilton retirement and more things learned from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
  • A sold-out Grand Prix saw scores of celebrities turn up to witness the action at Yas Marina Circuit

ABU DHABI: An exciting season finale in Abu Dhabi saw Max Verstappen wrap up his stellar Formula One campaign with yet another race victory.

A sold-out Grand Prix saw scores of celebrities turn up to witness the action at Yas Marina Circuit. From Pep Guardiola to Shaquille O’Neal to Usher to Usain Bolt… the race in the UAE capital was a star-studded affair.

Here’s what we learned from the F1 season-closer...

Max pulls off Abu Dhabi hattrick

World champion Max Verstappen picked up a third consecutive victory at Yas Marina Circuit, marking the first time he has pulled off a three-peat at the same race in his career.

The Red Bull man concluded the season with 15 victories from 22 races in 2022 and he can’t wait to try and do it all over again next year.

“It's been really enjoyable to work with the whole team and to be able to achieve something like this this year,” said Verstappen.

“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.”

Strategy pays off for Ferrari

In the battle for the runner-up spot in the drivers’ championship, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc pipped Sergio Perez by placing second at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ahead of the Red Bull driver, who completed the podium in third.

A one-stop strategy from Ferrari for Leclerc made all the difference and it not only secured second place for the Monegasque driver, but also second place for the Italian marque in the constructors’ championship.

“I was 110 percent from the first lap to the last lap,” said Leclerc, who outscored Perez by just three points in the drivers’ standings.

“Honestly, we had the perfect race for us, there was not much more today. I knew that the only possibility for us to beat Checo (Perez) today was with a different strategy and playing with the tyre management, which we did really well today. And we managed to make the one-stop work. So really, really happy.”

Vettel hopes to leave lasting legacy

Sebastian Vettel’s F1 career ended with a 10th place finish in Abu Dhabi and featured some thrilling battles with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo.

The four-time world champion enjoyed an emotional weekend filled with tributes from within the F1 paddock and beyond and he left the track with some lovely words about the legacy he hopes to leave behind in the sport.

“I feel a bit empty, to be honest, it's been a big weekend,” said the Aston Martin driver.

“I think the last two years have been very, maybe disappointing from a sporting point of view, but very, very useful and important to me in my life, a lot of things happened. A lot of things that I realized.

“I think it's a huge privilege being in the position that we are in and with that comes some responsibility. So I hope to pass on a little bit to the other drivers to carry on some of the good work.

“It's great to see that we have the power to inspire you with what we do and what we say. So I think there are far bigger and far more important things than racing in circles, but obviously it's what we love and through that if we can transfer some of the really important values that's big.

“And I think for that the last two years have been great for me.”

Hamilton’s streak is broken

Lewis Hamilton’s streak of 15 consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one race has come to an end after failing to top the podium at any Grand Prix throughout his 2022 campaign.

Since making his F1 debut in 2007, Hamilton had won a race in every single year he has competed in Formula One up until this season.

2022 is also the first season in Hamilton’s career in which he hasn't scored a pole position.

His year to forget ended with a car retirement at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with just three laps to go, and the seven-time world champion is grateful his season with Mercedes’ W13 car is finally over.

“I’m looking forward to the end of Tuesday because it’s the last time I will drive this car and I don’t ever plan to drive this one again,” Hamilton had said after qualifying on Saturday.

He joked on Sunday that he might “call in sick” so he doesn’t have to drive the car during the Pirelli test at Yas Marina Circuit on Tuesday.

“I always believed right until the last race that there was potentially a chance [to win],” Hamilton said after his DNF in the UAE capital.

“I think it’s important to hold onto hope and just keep working. I gave it everything and the last race was almost like the whole season; it summed up the whole year. Glad it’s done.”

Wolff focused on giving drivers a competitive car

Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said on Saturday the W13 provided a necessary learning experience for them and joked that it will “not be forgotten as the car that dominated the Brazilian Grand Prix”.

“I think this car will always have a special place in our collection, very far back. But I think that hopefully the next years will do her justice. Because the learning curve with that car was enormous. Our fundamental understanding of aerodynamic, vehicle dynamics correlation has gone through a step change of learning.”

Wolff believes Hamilton will not be too disheartened by seeing his streak of annual victories snapped and says the most important thing is to get both his drivers in a competitive car in 2023.

“Lewis says that the one victory a year isn’t really a record that bothers him,” said Wolff.

“And if I’m trying to put myself in his shoes, where I was before Brazil, it didn’t particularly bother me whether we could win a race this season because all our eyes are already on next year.

“But then having won one (George Russell’s triumph in Brazil), it felt pretty good, certainly nobody can say, ‘Well they didn’t win a race that year’.

“So I don’t think that this particular record is an important one for him. But we need to provide him with a car next year that he can fight for victories and the championship, that’s most important and he knows that.”

Alpine secure deserved fourth

Esteban Ocon can breathe a huge sigh of relief as his stressful weekend in Abu Dhabi ended with him placing seventh in the race, which helped his Alpine team lock down fourth place in the constructors’ championship, ahead of McLaren.

With his teammate Fernando Alonso unable to complete the race due to a suspected water leak in his car, Ocon carried the burden alone at Yas Marina Circuit and the Frenchman certainly delivered.

“I’m very, very pleased with the result that we got today. Obviously one more lap and we could have probably got Lando (Norris). It was very, very close race the whole way but that doesn’t matter; all the targets that we set ourselves are accomplished,” said Ocon.

“We finished fourth in the constructors’ championship, thank God for that, I lost two and a half kilos this weekend of stress and being too focused. It is also my best season in Formula One in terms of points. So I’m very pleased with that. A good job by the whole team to develop the car so much over the year and hopefully we can close even more the gap for next year.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris finished sixth in Abu Dhabi – and set the fastest lap – to end his campaign in seventh place in the drivers’ championship, just one spot off his position from last year.

“It’s where we deserve to be, P5,” said Norris of McLaren’s place in the constructors’ championship.

“I guess you feel very disappointed when there’s a shot at P4 and you could have had it. But we’ve had bad weekend of reliability. Alpine have had four, five. They’ve been the quicker car the majority of the year.

“I think to have kept in the fight with them for so long proves how good of a job we’ve done with a worse package honestly. And therefore that’s why I’m quite happy. We’re P5 but there are a lot of good things about the job that we’re doing. It’s just you need a good car and we just started too far behind in the beginning of the season.”

Ricciardo looks to ‘rebuild’ himself

Daniel Ricciardo has no idea if Abu Dhabi was his last-ever race in Formula One, but the Australian is entering the unknown with a solid perspective on how he can use his time away from the cockpit to his advantage.

McLaren ended Ricciardo’s contract early and he will be without a seat for next year. He is likely to sign a deal as a reserve driver for his former team, Red Bull, but assures he would only be around for “at most a dozen” races in 2023.

“The role I’ll have will not be 24 races. If I was there 24 races then I’ll probably be on the grid racing. I wanted to make that clear that, look, I want to still be involved, but personally for me, for my own headspace, I need some time away from the travel and everything,” explained Ricciardo.

A fan favorite and popular figure in the paddock, Ricciardo finished ninth in Abu Dhabi, despite a three-grid place penalty for his crash with Kevin Magnussen in Brazil the previous week.

“I’m relieved that the season finished like this and not like the race in Brazil. To see the chequered flag, to finish in the points, just makes me a little more at peace with how this year has ended,” said Ricciardo.

Asked about how it might feel next season being at a Grand Prix without being able to race, he said: “That’s honestly a feeling which in a way, I hope, makes me a little bit agitated, makes me hungry, makes me a little bit edgy.

“I’ll truly know then if my place is back on the grid. If I’m watching as a fan and not really caring too much, then I also have my answer that, okay then, my future looks different. I hope to get these feelings of course, I’m sure I will.

“But it also allows me some time off and some time to rebuild myself. Just to get a year of not so many highs and lows, just something a bit more balanced, also just for me personally I think will make me a little more consistent and a little happier.”

Adaptation key for Sainz in 2023

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz believes he may have to adjust his driving style to be as competitive as his teammate Leclerc next year but is pleased with the progress he has made in 2022.

The Spaniard finished fifth in the championship this year – just like in 2021 – and scored 62 fewer points than Leclerc.

Sainz says his relationship with his teammate is as strong as ever and was thrilled to see Leclerc secure second in Abu Dhabi.

“I think he absolutely deserves it,” said Sainz. “I think he deserves to finish second this year. He’s been super strong all season with this generation of cars. He’s been driving extremely well and I may have to adapt and change a bit my driving to try and be closer to him. But congrats because he did a great season.”

Sainz says Ferrari were “out-developed” by Red Bull and Mercedes in the second half of the season, which explains why they were unable to win any of the last 11 races of 2022.

“Very simply, Red Bull is the stronger package, together with Max and we need to catch up a bit and out-develop them next year,” added Sainz.

“We want to beat them. I think it’s fair, it’s our first year back in the fight for the championship, so there’s still things we need to learn, while Red Bull have been there with Merc the last two seasons. And we are a bit new for this. We’ll learn a lot from this.”