Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Sasha Macmillen
At long last, the 2022 Formula One season finale is upon us, and what an intriguing season it has been. The championship battle was eventually dominated by the impervious Max Verstappen after a shaky start, but the storylines all around the grid have never failed to capture the hearts and minds of F1 fans all around the world. Many of these storylines will come to a head in Abu Dhabi, as Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc battle it out for P2 in the standings, Mercedes look to make a last-gasp overtake on Ferrari in the Constructors’, while Alpine will be hoping to hold off McLaren in their battle for fourth position. Plenty is left to play for as the F1 circus rolls around to the Yas Marina Circuit.
A newer addition to the calendar, the racing track in Yas Island was opened in 2009, immediately playing host to that year’s finale, although Jenson Button had already wrapped up the title. This was not the case however in the following year, as Sebastian Vettel secured his first title in dramatic fashion, and he achieved his third in arguably even more chaotic circumstances in 2012. 2016 was highly memorable as well, as Nico Rosberg narrowly overcame the challenge of his vastly talented teammate Lewis Hamilton, much to the German’s delight. Of course, who could forget the crazy, unbelievable scenes that took place in last year’s title decider, as Verstappen took the crown ahead of Hamilton in a last lap overtake, admittedly marred by a certain amount of controversy.
As for the track itself, the circuit material offers a high level of grip in exchange for increased tyre degradation, the same as we see in Bahrain. It has no less than five grandstands for fans, while the pit lane is unique in that part of it runs directly under the track. There are two DRS (Drag Reduction System) zones throughout the lap, including the seemingly endless back straight that follows the challenging hairpin at Turn 5, which provides probably the best overtaking opportunity of the track. Additionally, the tricky run from Turns 10 to 12 provides a stern test for the drivers, as it forces them to brake heavily with lots of lateral load still on the car.
The 2021 title decider, balanced on a knife edge with Verstappen and Hamilton on equal points coming into the weekend, was a non-stop display of edge-of-the-seat action, as Hamilton took an early lead despite an adventure across the inside of a corner in an attempt to avoid his rival going unpunished. The tension was overwhelming, but everything seemed to be trickling out of reach for Red Bull and their young Dutchman. That is until an unfortunate crash for Williams driver Nicholas Latifi brought out the safety car, and race director Michael Masi eventually allowed only the lapped cars in between the two rivals to unlap themselves, with time rapidly running out. To this day, fans of the sport engage in heated debate about this ruling, but we know that it meant Verstappen had one lap to pass his bitter rival, on fresher tyres, and he didn’t hesitate, seizing his opportunity to catch Hamilton sleeping down the inside of Turn 5, and bringing home the championship for the Netherlands.
Last time out in Brazil, we were fortunate enough to witness an absolute thriller of a race, as the terrific track complemented the sprint race format, and Kevin Magnussen took his first ever pole position on Friday, much to the ecstasy of fans. While he wasn’t able to convert his lofty qualifying position into a win or a podium, he did grab a vital point for Haas by finishing eighth on Saturday. It was George Russell who would be starting Sunday’s race at the front, with Hamilton behind him as the team locked out the front row of the grid for the first time this season. The race was no less chaotic either, as we saw another flashpoint between Verstappen and Hamilton, as they collided in the Senna S, while the two Mercedes drivers eventually pulled through to claim a brilliant 1-2 finish in the race, while tensions flared at Red Bull as the relationship between Perez and Verstappen seemed to sour after the latter disobeyed a team order to let his teammate pass him before the end. All in all, it was a highly entertaining Grand Prix.
So, with much of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ standings still to be finalised, who can overcome their rivals under the lights of Abu Dhabi, and who will come out on top to round out the 2022 season and hit the ground running in 2023? We’ll find out very soon.