Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2022: Plenty to race for at F1 season finale even without titles

Red Bull attempt to claim a championship 1-2, there is intrigue around Mercedes' newfound pace, and Vettel bids farewell at the scene of his first title

Red Bull are aiming for a first drivers' championship 1-2, with Sergio Perez out to claim second behind teammate world champion Max Verstappen. Getty
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Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix promises a fascinating tapestry of interwoven ambitions even though both world championships are already decided.

And we don’t only have world champion Max Verstappen to thank for that.

Lewis Hamilton bids to draw a triumphant line under the worst season of his soaring career, while old rivals are being dumped or retiring and down the grid new blood is stepping up.

As for Verstappen, his furious outburst on the radio at Interlagos has whetted the appetite for what may be to come on Sunday.

Then there is his clash with Hamilton through the Senna Esses which reignited the rivalry of the sport’s most prolific racers. The fact that there is not a championship in the balance could actually make the duo more combative than usual, if that is possible.

Victory by the reigning champion would stretch his string of wins in a single season to a record 15, but after the events in Brazil it may also trigger ructions at Red Bull.

Despite six world titles Red Bull are yet to finish first and second in the driver’s series, and the young Dutchman threw a spanner in the works when he refused a team order at the last round to cede his place to teammate Sergio Perez.

When challenged on the team radio he said: “Don’t ask me again. I’ve given my reasons.”

Verstappen has refused to explain, publicly, what those reasons were but the paddock is rife with speculation he is still upset over events at Monaco six months ago.

Perez’s crash in qualifying cost the Dutchman pole (and effectively the win) while the Mexican went on to take victory in the world’s most famous race.

Verstappen has run away with the championship since but at the time the title's destination was very much in the balance.

Earlier this week Verstappen recanted, saying said he would help his teammate after all, adding: “It’s all about who finishes ahead anyway.”

But will he? It is far from clear what his actions will be if the moment comes.

All the sport’s front runners arrive in Abu Dhabi with something to fight for.

Hamilton, who has seen so much glory here, is looking to avoid an unwanted landmark. He has won the twilight race a record five times and started from pole just as often. This time he is going for the win to avoid a first winless season of his 16-year career.

Lewis Hamilton is aiming to avoid the first winless season of his F1 career. AFP

Worse than that, without a victory this will be the worst season of his entire career. Even with it, he has probably plumbed deeper depths than his previous worst, 2013, which was his first with Mercedes.

And all eyes will also be on Mercedes to see if they can repeat their dominance in Sao Paulo, where George Russell stormed to his maiden victory and Hamilton finished runner-up.

Even the team’s engineers admitted they are as fascinated as the rest to find out if the sudden turn of speed carries over to the UAE.

Of course, Hamilton also has issues with teammate Russell who has outdone him in almost every important metric this year: more wins (1/0), poles (1/0), fastest laps (4/2), laps led (99/46) and points (265/240).

Some say it’s because, at 37, age is beginning to tell. Others believe that after so much glory he is understandably reluctant to risk all for a ‘meaningless’ fifth place and his mojo will return, as it did in Brazil, when the car’s true performance does.

The 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be the 299th and final race of Sebastian Vettel's F1 career. Getty

Up and down the field there are other landmarks. Sebastian Vettel returns to the scene of his emotional first championship win in 2010 aged just 23. This time, aged 35, it is to say goodbye at his 299th and last Grand Prix.

It could also be the last chance to see another famous F1 name. Frustrated at a string of expensive crashes, Mick Schumacher, son of the seven-time champion, is tipped to be replaced at Haas by German veteran Nico Hulkenberg for 2023.

Ferrari are battling a resurgent Mercedes for the runners-up spot in the constructor’s championship after their massive points haul in Brazil. The gap is just 19 points with 44 to race for.

Alpine and McLaren lock horns over fourth place, Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin sixth, while Haas and Alpha Tauri square up over eighth. In each case many millions more in prize money is on the line.

On Friday, fans will also get a taste of the future with Logan Sargeant, scion of an American shipping billionaire, driving for Williams ahead of signing to race for 2023.

Updated: November 18, 2022, 9:35 AM
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