Formula 1 returns to Abu Dhabi with plenty to play for in the final race of a thrilling season; watch the whole weekend live on Sky Sports F1 – Qualifying on Saturday at 2pm and the race on Sunday at 1pm
Last Updated: 16/11/22 6:30am
A year on from their epic showdown for the title in Abu Dhabi, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton arrive at the 2022 season finale with history at stake once more.
Having retained his world championship in dominant fashion, Verstappen returns to the Yas Marina Circuit in search of a record-extending 15th race win of the season.
The Dutchman surpassed the mark of 13, set by Michael Schumacher in 2004 and then matched by Sebastian Vettel in 2013, by winning in Mexico last month, and after missing out in Brazil has a final chance to extend a record that will take some beating.
In great contrast to his 2021 title rival, Hamilton is looking for a first win of what has been a hugely challenging campaign for the seven-time world champion, with Mercedes having been off the pace for much of the year as their eight-year streak of constructors’ titles was ended by Red Bull.
The Briton will be trying to extend a streak of having won a race in 15 consecutive seasons (covering his entire career) in F1, which is a record he shares with Michael Schumacher, whose run stretched from 1992 to 2006.
Despite having insisted throughout the campaign that this specific record is not important to him, the fact that Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell claimed Mercedes’ first victory of the season last time out in Brazil will have only further motivated the 37-year-old to secure a win of his own.
Mercedes said in Brazil that they did not expect their car to be hugely suited to the Yas Marina Circuit, but the team’s dominant display at Interlagos will boost hopes they can compete for victory once more in Abu Dhabi.
Perez and Leclerc left to go it alone in battle for second
The drivers’ championship might be decided, but the battle for second – and Red Bull’s hopes of claiming a one-two to go with their constructors’ title – are very much alive.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez goes into the final race level on points with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who is ahead by virtue of his three race wins to the Mexican’s two.
Both drivers – to varying degrees – left Brazil frustrated at not receiving more help from their teams, and more specifically their team-mates.
The less controversial of those situations was for Leclerc, who trailed team-mate Carlos Sainz in the closing stages and was rejected when he asked over radio if there was any possibility of a swap for the third place the Spaniard ultimately kept hold of.
In Perez’s case, he was told to let Verstappen through to sixth place in the closing laps to allow him to have a go at catching Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in fifth, but that if the Dutchman failed, he would give the place back on the last lap.
Verstappen did fail, but he ignored a team order to give the place back, saying over radio – and after the race to the media – that he had already given the team his “reasons”.
Perez responded by saying he was “disappointed” and Verstappen had “shown who he really is”, but the Dutchman did later say that if he had the chance to help his team-mate in Abu Dhabi, he would.
Both drivers’ previous best world championship finish is fourth, so Leclerc is guaranteed a new high mark, while Perez can only drop out of the top three if he fails to score a point and George Russell wins.
Will Ferrari hold off Mercedes?
Also fighting to hold on to second place is Leclerc’s Ferrari team, who have somehow allowed Mercedes to come back into contention in the constructors’ championship.
Ferrari were 66 points clear of the Silver Arrows at the halfway point of the season, and despite having had a faster car for most of the campaign, are now only 19 points ahead.
While Mercedes have improved in the second half of the year, Ferrari have left a significant amount of points on the table through a mixture of poor reliability, strategic errors and occasional driver mistakes.
That inefficiency has led to speculation over Ferrari team principal Matti Binotto’s future, with reports in Italy this week claiming a decision has been made to replace him with Alfa Romeo counterpart Frederic Vasseur at the end of the season.
The Italian team released a statement on Tuesday denying the reports, but Binotto is undoubtedly a man under intense pressure and scrutiny heading into the final race of the season.
Avoiding the embarrassment of being caught by Mercedes in what has been a disastrous season for the German team would at least provide some solace for Ferrari.
Further down the constructors’ championship standings, there is also unfinished business in the battles for fourth, sixth and eighth.
Alpine have all but sealed fourth after a strong showing in Brazil, with McLaren needing to overturn a 19-point deficit in Abu Dhabi.
However, the contests lower down are closer, with sixth-placed Alfa Romeo just five points clear of Aston Martin, and Haas in eighth only two points ahead of AlphaTauri.
Vettel bids farewell and Ricciardo leaves the grid
Perhaps slightly overshadowing his Aston Martin team’s attempts to snatch sixth from Alfa Romeo will be Sebastian Vettel, driving in the final race of his 16-year F1 career.
The four-time world champion announced in July that he would be retiring at the end of the season and has been saying a long goodbye ever since.
The German has been in good form recently, and will be keen to finish with a flourish under the lights of the Yas Marina Circuit.
Much loved by fans and fellow drivers, Vettel’s farewell will undoubtedly result in an outpouring of love from the F1 community, and perhaps some emotion from the man himself, so get your tissues at the ready.
Also receiving a send-off of sorts will be Daniel Ricciardo, who leaves McLaren without a drive for next season.
The Australian is adamant he will be back on the grid in the future and has been linked with a reserve role for Mercedes or Red Bull next season, but there are no guarantees in F1.
The hugely-popular Ricciardo will be missed by fans, rivals and perhaps even more so by Netflix’s Drive To Survive, which has helped develop his cult status.
Sargeant out to seal F1 seat
Also in the spotlight in Abu Dhabi will be a driver who has yet to make his full F1 debut, American prospect Logan Sargeant.
The 21-year-old has been offered a seat alongside Alex Albon at Williams next season, but must attain an FIA super licence to be able to take up the role.
To do that, he must reach the 40-point threshold, of which he has already attained 29, the most recent of which was earned by completing 100km in Practice Two at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
Sargeant can add another point when he drives for Williams in FP1 in Abu Dhabi, but the rest of the points he requires will need to come from the final round of the Formula 2 season, which is also running throughout the weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit, live on Sky Sports.
The Carlin driver enters the weekend, which features a Sprint and a full-length feature race, third in the championship, and will need to finish sixth to seal the required points.
While Felipe Drugovich already has the title wrapped up and Theo Pourchaire is comfortably clear in second, the standings get very tight after that, and Sargeant is only nine points clear of Enzo Fittipaldi in sixth.
Sargeant has failed to finish either of the feature races in the previous two rounds, and if that were to happen again he would certainly be at risk of being overhauled by the trio of drivers behind him.
However, there is a potential fall back for the American, with his clean licence in F2 this season – and in F3 last season – meaning he could be awarded additional points on top of the ones he receives for his final championship position.
While it seems a lot would need to go wrong for Sargeant to fail to gain his super licence, watching how he deals with the pressure could provide valuable insight as to how he will fare in F1 in the future.
Watch the whole Abu Dhabi GP weekend live on Sky Sports F1 – Qualifying on Saturday at 2pm and the race on Sunday at 1pm.