Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Sameena Khan
The season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit beckons. This race is set to end an enthralling 2022 season under new regulations. Although the title battle hasn’t been as closely contested and fierce as last season, this season has witnessed many brilliant races and moments. Four new pole-sitters, two new race winners, and records have been broken throughout the season.
While both the trophies have headed in the direction of Max Verstappen and Red Bull, there is still a lot at stake (including crucial millions of dollars) going into the final round at Abu Dhabi. The battle for second place in both standings is hotly-debated, as are some placings among the midfield teams. So, who will be in the spotlight at the season finale? Let us go over these battles briefly.
1. Charles Leclerc vs Sergio Perez: The battle for second in the Drivers’ standings
Level on points, heading into the season finale at Abu Dhabi. Sounds familiar from a year ago. However, it is for second place in the standings this time than the championship. Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez head into the season finale on 290 points each. Both drivers had contrasting races in the previous round at Brazil, with Leclerc recovering from last place to fourth.
In contrast, Perez struggled on the medium tyres at the end, falling to seventh after “That” spat with his teammate Max Verstappen. Should Leclerc finish second in the standings, it will be a fine end to a difficult season for Ferrari. Although, should Perez finish second, it will mark the first time both Red Bull drivers spend 1-2 in the standings.
Leclerc, too requested Ferrari to swap places with Sainz, although the team denied doing so, terming it a risky manoeuvre, as Fernando Alonso was only a second off Leclerc. This left both drivers with 290 points, Leclerc ahead by taking more race wins in the season. While the battle is between the Ferrari and Red Bull driver, there is an outlier in this fight, too: Mercedes driver George Russell. Following his win at Brazil, the Briton sits on 265 points and is still in contention, albeit only mathematically. Should he take the full complement of 26 points on offer in Abu Dhabi, and Leclerc and Perez don’t score any, Russell will inherit second in the standings. This will be one of the closely-followed battles at Abu Dhabi.
2. Ferrari vs Mercedes, and Carlos Sainz vs Lewis Hamilton
Another closely watched battle will be the battle for second in the constructors’ standings between Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes AMG. While this battle wasn’t as much of a possibility, considering the initial gap in performance between the two teams, it has been made possible due to Mercedes’ recent form. Mercedes’ 1-2 finish in Brazil, along with Russell’s sprint race victory, reduced the gap from 40 to 19 points. The silver arrows have been on the podium for a hat-trick of races, while Ferrari endured tough races in the USA and Mexico. A second-place finish for Ferrari would indicate improvement from the team’s 2021 season, which saw the Italian outfit finish third in the standings. Second for Mercedes would be a welcome return, considering their early struggles in the season.
While George Russell looks set to lock in fourth place in the drivers’ standings, the fifth is up for grabs. Lewis Hamilton comes into the event on 240 points, six ahead of Ferrari driver Sainz. Hamilton’s season was rejuvenated in Canada when he secured his second podium finish this season. The Briton has secured eight podiums since, taking his podium tally in 2022 to 10. In contrast, Sainz has had a tough season, despite taking nine podiums, including a win in Silverstone. He has six DNFs to his name this season. He will be looking to secure fifth place by emulating his drive from last season’s Abu Dhabi GP, where he finished third and secured fifth place in the standings.
3. Alpine vs McLaren; and Fernando Alonso vs Esteban Ocon
We move to the midfield battles now, with the high-profile battle between McLaren and Alpine for fourth in the standings. McLaren’s fight for fourth arises from exceptional drives throughout the season by Lando Norris, who sits seventh in the standings and is the “Best of the rest”. Points have been harder to come by for his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The team currently sits 19 points off Alpine, and since the scraps are for much lower points, it leaves McLaren with a taller mountain to climb if they are to secure fourth in the standings. Fourth would represent an excellent return for the season, having experienced issues with the car early in the season.
Now, we come to one of the spiciest battles on the grid. The intra-team battle at Alpine between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon has flared on more than one occasion. In Brazil, it was Ocon and Alonso making contact on lap one of the sprint, with the latter running into the back of Ocon’s car on the main straight later in the lap. Ultimately, both drivers finished the sprint race well outside the top ten. Race day, however, saw both drivers finish in the points, Alonso in fifth and Ocon eighth. Alonso narrowed the gap to five points behind Ocon in the standings with this result and will be looking to secure a significant result in Abu Dhabi to move ahead in the standings.
4. Alfa Romeo vs Aston Martin
Aston Martin’s renewed consistency throughout the season, with Sebastian Vettel putting in some brave drives to secure essential points, has seen them sit only five points behind Alfa Romeo in the standings. The Swiss outfit had a flying start to the season, with Bottas securing as many as 46 points out of 51 in the opening nine rounds of the season, and looked to be firmly in contention for fourth in the standings with McLaren and Alpine.
However, the team found points hard to come by, with only four points in the next 11 rounds, but had the edge over Aston Martin, having scored three points in the last two races to Aston Martin’s one. With this battle usually being contested for lower points scores, it will be up to Vettel to put in another bold drive in what is set to be his final Grand Prix in the sport, with Lance Stroll too vying to bring home a point or two to end the season on a good note.
5. Haas vs Alpha Tauri
Another battle just below the teams mentioned above is that of Haas vs Alpha Tauri for eighth in the standings. Both constructors have found points hard to come by, with the odd high points finish in a race. Haas started the season strong, with Kevin Magnussen finishing fifth in the opening round at Bahrain on a shock return to the sport. More points followed at the subsequent round in Jeddah and Round four in Imola. Since then, however, points have been hard to come by, with Silverstone and Austria being the only exceptions, the team accumulating 19 points over the weekends. There was a moment to savour for Haas and Magnussen, though, with a maiden pole position at the Brazilian GP. Magnussen picked up an essential point in the weekend’s sprint race, extending the team gap to two points. His teammate Schumacher has experienced a tough sophomore season, scoring 12 points, the highest finish of sixth at Austria.
The same has been the case for Alpha Tauri. Yuki Tsunoda started the season strong, scoring 10 points in the first two races and the tenth place in Spain, but went on a 12-race scoreless streak, the drought ending with another tenth-place finish in the USA. His teammate Pierre Gasly has fared better, scoring 23 points, with the highlight being a fifth-place finish in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. He has accumulated as many as ten penalty points, though, and will vary of any more coming his way as he looks to end his Alpha Tauri stint on a solid note and help the team finish eighth in the standings.
Who will take the spoils in these battles? To find out, tune into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend. Free Practice starts at 9:30 a.m. BST. Feel free to share your opinions in the comments below.