Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Ishani Aziz
The season finale in Abu Dhabi was the final weekend for a number of drivers with their teams. Daniel Ricciardo, Mick Schumacher, and Nicholas Latifi took part in their final weekends for McLaren, Haas, and Williams respectively, with their F1 journeys potentially coming to a close. On the other hand, Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly took part in their final weekends for Alpine and Alpha Tauri, before they headed for their new 2023 seats on the grid.
However, one driver left a particularly poignant mark this weekend, racing in his final Grand Prix in F1. Sebastian Vettel said farewell to the sport over the emotional race weekend, and to the many fans in the F1 community who were inspired by the German, and had been rooting for him since his Red Bull days.
In the days leading up to the event social media was brimming with content paying tribute to Vettel’s decorated career, from fan pages to motorsport websites, and even the official Instagram handle of F1. 298 races, 122 podiums, 57 pole positions, 53 race wins, 38 Fastest laps, and most importantly, four World Championships in a row, and countless iconic moments. It is no mystery why the F1 community were both anticipating and dreading the German legend’s last race.
While he will definitely be remembered for his accolades on the track, it was his presence off-track which left a greater impact on the F1 community. Whether it was voicing his concerns for the environment, helping young children build a “bee hotel” in Austria, his humour, or his camaraderie with his fellow drivers, he won the respect of many fans.
Many tributes were lined up for the weekend too, with Vettel himself inviting fans to bid in an auction, to have their faces on his final helmet, for his last Grand Prix. His compatriots Alonso and Mick Schumacher also designed tribute helmets for the weekend, with the iconic German tricolour from Vettel’s helmet being the new addition. Lewis Hamilton organised a special dinner with the F1 grid, in honour of Vettel. Alonso and Hamilton too spoke fondly of the German, and their close friend, during the weekend’s press conference on Thursday. Vettel’s father, Norbert, then visited the Aston Martin garage on Friday, presenting his son’s first racing suit and helmet, as a nice touch to his beginnings in motorsport.
In the final practice sessions Vettel finished sixth and 12th at the end of both sessions. Saturday’s Free Practice Three session saw him finish ninth, his final Free Practice session in the sport.
Come qualifying, Vettel once again gave us a glimpse of his greatness, putting in one quick lap after another, despite coming across traffic. He made it into Q2, and then another great lap, some four tenths quicker than his teammate Lance Stroll, saw him make it to Q3 as well. Although he was able to set only one lap in the final Q3 session, it was good enough to net him ninth on the grid for the race. A brilliant return, indeed,considering the British team’s overall pace throughout the season. As his close friend and rival Alonso had jested, all the drivers kept out of the way to ensure he had a clean final race weekend in the sport. Vettel then organised a run around the circuit for “one final lap” with the F1 paddock, with the Aston Martin staff, his close friend Mick Schumacher, and even F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali joining in on the initiative.
Sunday saw more tributes to Vettel from the drivers, who posed for a group photo, while performing the German’s iconic #1 celebration, and also giving him a guard of honour for his final ever race. During the race, Vettel’s old race prowess returned as he chased and pressured Ocon for eighth in the early stages, and stayed out for as long as 25 laps on medium tyres in his first stint, as he attempted to finish the race by making only one pit stop. He pitted for hard tyres, and rejoined the race in 19th. From here, it was a series of overtakes, coupled with action and pit stops from the two-stopping drivers, which saw Vettel make his way into the final points-paying position, in tenth, by lap 40, as he chased down Ricciardo for ninth. However, he was told to let his teammate Stroll, on fresh medium tyres, pass to have a better chance of overtaking Ricciardo, which the Canadian did with ease. Now it was up to Vettel to chase down the Aussie for the final points finish, to end his career on a high. Would he get a point in his final Grand Prix? It was looking a tall order at that moment.
Thankfully, luck was on Vettel’s side. On the penultimate lap, Hamilton’s Mercedes was slowing down, following a hydraulics failure. He had to pull into the pits, promoting everyone behind him by one spot. This put Vettel in the points, and Aston Martin level on points with Alfa Romeo. It was up to the German to pass Ricciardo, to score Aston Martin a net sixth in the standings. Vettel pushed Ricciardo all the way till the final corner, but couldn’t get ahead, but still gained a point. Truly racing to the finish line.
A celebratory round of donuts ensued on the start/finish straight, and Vettel got out of the car, celebrating in front of his adoring fans for one final time. And the icing on the cake, being voted Driver of the Day, gathering a whopping 56% of the votes; another record for the German.
“Danke Seb”, the F1 community will miss seeing you on track. Thank you for all the memories you have given the fans of the sport.