Max Verstappen capped a dominant season in fitting style as he completed a lights to flag victory in Abu Dhabi for his 15th win of the year.
Despite having wrapped up the title over a month ago, there’s been no let up from Verstappen with the Red Bull driver finishing the season by winning three of the final four races.
A third straight win under the lights at the Yas Marina Circuit was never in doubt with Red Bull having been significantly quicker than its rivals all weekend, giving Verstappen the tools to power clear of the field from pole and cruise to the finish.
With Verstappen way out in front, the attention turned to the fight for second between Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez of Red Bull, the duo having entered the weekend level on points in the fight to finish runner-up in the drivers’ championship.
Red Bull had been eager to claim a first one-two in the individual standings and were heavy favourites to achieve that goal with Perez starting from the front row of the grid.
Having been over half a second a lap quicker than Leclerc’s Ferrari on the medium tyres, everything was going the Mexican’s way, only for Red Bull’s two-stop strategy for Perez to backfire.
The constructors’ champions waited too long to bring Perez in for his second pit stop and would run out of laps to catch Leclerc, who held on to cross the finish line in second with Perez breathing down his neck.
With Verstappen having made a one-stop strategy work, Red Bull will have been frustrated to have let a very achievable second place slip through their grasp.
It was touch and go though whether Ferrari’s decision to only bring Leclerc in once would pay off and not for the first time this season, Leclerc was heard questioning the team’s race strategy over the radio.
However, it would prove the right call, thanks in part to the Scuderia being a far more competitive beast on the hard compound tyre.
Leclerc was a relieved man after the race to have held off the rampaging Red Bull having seen several promising positions lost to strategic errors over the course of this season.
Leclerc made it clear on the podium that he expects more from Ferrari next season as they get set to knuckle down this winter in an effort to close the gap to Red Bull.
Leclerc’s team mate Carlos Sainz, who did stop twice, came home a distant fourth, ahead of George Russell’s Mercedes with the Brit’s chances hampered by a time penalty for an unsafe pit release.
Russell at least finished the race, unlike his team mate.
One year on from having an eighth world title controversially snatched from his grasp in Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton was left vexed by his return to the Yas Marina Circuit.
Starting from fifth on the grid, the Brit was quick to jump Sainz and latch onto the back of Leclerc in third place, showing the kind of pace that should have put him in the mix for a fourth successive podium.
The Mercedes looked significantly quicker than the Ferrari in the early stages but Hamilton was unable to capitalise thanks largely to a trip across the kerbs when fighting for fourth with Sainz.
The 37-year-old’s car was damaged by the bumpy ride and he would complain of losing power thereafter with George Russell able to easily pass his team mate.
While Hamilton was able to recover to stay within touching distance of the top-three, a first mechanical failure of the season for Mercedes caused by a hydraulic issue would end his race early.
Hamilton’s DNF at least made sure Sebastian Vettel’s final race in Formula 1 had a happy ending, lifting the Aston Martin driver up into the points and saving the blushes of his team after they got their strategy wrong.
Tenth was the least the four-time world champion deserved having driven superbly to qualify in eighth but Aston Martin’s decision to put Vettel on a one-stop strategy didn’t produce the desired results.
Having been passed by his team mate Lance Stroll, who stopped twice, during the closing stages, Vettel was quick to berate his engineers over the team radio for having gone for a different game plan to Stroll.
It took a top drive from Vettel to remain in the fight for points and was a timely reminder of his talents before he heads off into the sunset.
The 2022 Formula 1 season has belonged to Max Verstappen and in Sunday's Abu Dhabi finale, the Red Bull driver has a chance to put another exclamation point on his year.
The two-time world champion will start from pole position for the third year in a row in Abu Dhabi after a dominant performance in qualifying, securing first place on the grid by 0.228 seconds ahead of his team mate Sergio Perez.
Red Bull's first front row lockout since the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix sets the stage for Verstappen to finish the season in a style befitting such a dominant champion.
Verstappen and his Red Bull are in such harmony that he should run away with the win but there's the potential he could be sucked into a fierce battle behind him at the Yas Marina Circuit as F1 brings down the curtain on a memorable season.
What: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Where: Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi
When: 13:00, Sunday 20th November 2022
How to watch: Sky Sports F1
Odds (race): Max Verstappen 1/2, Sergio Perez 5/2, Charles Leclerc 12/1, Lewis Hamilton 16/1, George Russell 20/1, Carlos Sainz
The last seven races in Abu Dhabi have been won by the driver starting on pole and while Verstappen will be focused on extending that streak to eight races, he can't forget about his team mate Perez.
The Mexican is neck-and-neck with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in the battle to finish second in the drivers' championship and Red Bull are desperate for a first-ever one-two in the individual standings.
Verstappen said in the build-up to the season finale that he is willing to be a team player but risks sacrificing a strong position for the win by aiding Perez.
There was just 0.04seconds between Perez in second and Leclerc in third in qualifying with the Ferrari driver saying he expects Sunday's race to be as close.
The Scuderia locked out the second row with Carlos Sainz taking fourth behind Leclerc, a respectable showing from the Italians given they'd struggled for pace in practice.
A lack of pace is just one issue facing Ferrari, alongside the higher-than-expected tyre degradation at the Yas Marina Circuit, which has traditionally been kinder to F1 rubber.
Degradation is forecast as being 66% higher than expected and that's bad news for a Ferrari car that's been plagued by tyre management issues right throughout the season.
That will make Leclerc's job of overhauling Perez, who was fastest in third practice on Saturday morning, much tougher and leaves the Ferrari's vulnerable to what's behind them.
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will start directly behind the two Ferrari's on Sunday hoping to improve on what's so far been a disappointing weekend.
After Russell led home a Mercedes one-two in Brazil last week, hopes were high of a strong end to the season but they've been well off the pace set by Red Bull, while they too have tyre concerns.
With no driver having won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from further back than fourth on the grid it looks like third on podium may be the best Mercedes can hope for in a race they had dominated before Red Bull's controversial win last year.
Hamilton, who lost the world title to Verstappen on the last lap of this race last year, is 11/8 for a fourth successive top-three finish, with Russell .
Behind F1's big three teams, all eyes will be on Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel in his last race before retirement.
The German is finishing strongly, producing an excellent qualifying performance to secure eighth on the grid.
With overtaking notoriously difficult at Yas Marina, Vettel will be confident of staying in the points, although he's likely to come under plenty of pressure with McLaren, Alpine, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo all faster than Aston in Friday's race simulation runs.
Red Bull suffered their worst weekend of the season in Brazil last time out but the early signs suggest the champion constructors can bounce back in the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Max Verstappen topped Friday practice by more than three-tenths of a second with George Russell, fresh from his maiden Formula 1 victory in Brazil, second.
What: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Where: Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi
When: 13:00, Sunday 20th November 2022
How to watch: Sky Sports F1
Odds (qualifying): Max Verstappen 5/6, Charles Leclerc 3/1, George Russell 6/1, Lewis Hamilton 6/1, Carlos Sainz 10/1
Verstappen was one of eight regular drivers who sat out the morning session to allow junior drivers the chance to get a taste of F1 machinery.
After finishing sixth on an uncharacteristically scrappy weekend in Brazil, the Dutchman began the weekend odds-against for victory for the first time since before the summer break.
The double world champion damaged his car after contact with other drivers in both the Sprint race and main grand prix last weekend, also picking up a five-second penalty for his clash with old sparring partner Lewis Hamilton.
But after his strong Friday showing Verstappen is evens to round off a dominant season with his 15th win of the year.
Mercedes ended their season-long win drought with a glorious 1-2 finish in Brazil last week, but it was young Russell rather than seven-time world champion Hamilton who climbed the top step of the podium. Hamilton has won a race every year of his F1 career so far, and this is his last chance to keep that 15-year run going.
The veteran is a 5/2 chance to do so with Russell to quickly double up as the resurgent Mercs are shown plenty of respect in the betting market.
On Thursday evening, Hamilton treated all his fellow drivers to a meal to mark the imminent retirement of four-time champ Sebastian Vettel. But the Brit showed he had a clear head by topping the times in the first session, just ahead of Russell and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc with the Red Bulls of Sergio Perez and junior driver Liam Lawson next.
While the historic Interlagos circuit had been expected to suit the Mercedes last week, Abu Dhabi's much more conventional Yas Marina looked a less obvious opportunity for the Silver Arrows.
With the track's long straights Mercedes expected their drag issues to be exacerbated, while the many short 90-degree corners aren't punishing enough on tyres for the car's liking.
It's worth pointing out that Mercedes have often flattered on Friday only to deceive on Saturday this year, but they don't have any cause for pessimism from their first day's running.
Ferrari recovered from a difficult weekend in Mexico with a much stronger showing in Brazil, where Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc overcame adversity to finish third and fourth. However, they have work to do if they are to end the season on a high.
Although Leclerc was third fastest in both practice sessions, he was unhappy with the car, asking his engineer at one point "why are we so slow?"
In race simulation runs the Ferraris lagged well behind Red Bull and Mercedes at a track where they had expected to be able to fight for victory.
Leclerc is locked together with Perez in the fight for second in the championship, and while the Red Bull looked in better shape than Ferrari in practice, Perez was unable to get close to his team-mate Verstappen's pace.
The Mexican was more than seven tenths away in the second session and he will need to do better than that for Red Bull to secure the top two places in the drivers' standings.
Perez was unlucky with the timing of a late safety car in Brazil, finishing seventh having run as high as second earlier in the race. He was furious with Verstappen afterwards, as the world champion refused an order to let Perez through for sixth and two extra championship points.
Perez is tied on points with Leclerc, but the Ferrari driver sits in second place having won three races to the Mexican's two.
Russell is also mathematically still in the hunt for second spot. He would need to win in Abu Dhabi and claim the fastest lap with neither Leclerc nor Perez scoring a point, but stranger things have happened in the last race of an F1 season.
Last year’s race under the lights at the Yas Marina Circuit was one of the most memorable in F1 history as Max Verstappen pipped Lewis Hamilton to the world championship on the final lap of the race in highly-controversial fashion.
There’s no debating who deserves the title this year with Verstappen having dominated for the majority of the season, wrapping up a drivers-constructors double for Red Bull with a record-breaking performance.
However, Red Bull were given a bloody nose last weekend in Brazil by Mercedes as George Russell led home a one-two for the Silver Arrows, breaking their duck for 2022 and snapping Red Bull’s nine-race winning run.
Mercedes had been threatening a win before Interlagos after some significant improvements recently and should be a contender once more in the UAE, where they’ve won six times previously.
They may not be alone in challenging Red Bull though with Ferrari also expected to go well, setting the stage for an intriguing conclusion to the year.
Despite the potential for Mercedes and Ferrari to challenge them at Yas Marina, Verstappen is still the 5/4 favourite for victory in Abu Dhabi, where he’s won the last two races.
Verstappen’s price would have been shorter before the events in Brazil a week ago and Red Bull may now finally have a genuine fight on their hands for the first time since the summer.
There’s also internal pressure to improve after a sloppy showing last time out, Red Bull making a rare strategic error with tyre choices that cost both their drivers a shot at victory.
Throw into the mix the squabble between Verstappen and his team over not allowing Sergio Perez to pass him for sixth, and there’s the potential for a glorious season to end on a sour note for Red Bull.
Perez needed those two extra points to move ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the race to claim the runner-up spot and the two drivers are now neck-and-neck as a result to claim the silver medal.
Second is a small consolation prize for Leclerc for a season that started with so much promise but there’s the potential for him to sign off on a high for the year.
Qualifying has been vitally important to deciding the winner in Abu Dhabi with the last seven races won by the driver starting on pole, while no one has won from further back than fourth on the grid.
Saturday’s have been where Ferrari have shined all year, claiming 12 of the 21 pole positions, nine of which have gone to Leclerc.
A Ferrari at the front of the grid for Sunday’s race would certainly shake things up a bit, and throw a spanner in the works for Mercedes.
The Silver Arrows have made giant strides over the year to go from being a full second a lap slower on average than Red Bull at the start of the season to a race win and won’t want to go backwards now.
The aerodynamic upgrades introduced before the United States Grand Prix have made all the difference but this type of high downforce track hasn’t always suited Mercedes this year.
They’ll need to qualify well too, another area of weakness for Merc, making Abu Dhabi a real test of how far the team has come in 2022.
Outside the ‘big three’, this weekend’s main storyline is the final race for four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who is retiring at the end of the season.
The German racer dominated Formula 1 between 2010 and 2013 as he strung together his title wins at Red Bull and is fixing to go out on a high having driven well for his current team, Aston Martin.
Vettel is 8/11 for a points finish on his last race, while Daniel Ricciardo is to end his time at McLaren with a top-10 spot.
Ricciardo hasn’t called time on his F1 career yet and at 33 years old he’s far from over the hill. However, the Australian has struggled to attract much interest after a largely underwhelming stay at McLaren.
Oscar Piastri will replace Ricciardo for 2023, while Haas have confirmed Nico Hulkenberg will be taking Mick Schumacher’s seat for next season.
Hulkenberg’s return as a full-time driver for the first time since 2019 completes the grid for 2023 and leaves Schumacher without a drive for next year.
Mercedes have expressed an interest in his services as a test driver but he faces competition for that spot and will need a strong drive on Sunday to stay in the frame.