From a Sebastian Vettel farewell to another Max Verstappen victory and some 2022 solace for Ferrari, Martin Brundle reviews the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and explains the big challenge for Red Bull's rivals to catch them next year...
Tuesday 22 November 2022 16:03, UK
In his final post-race column of the season, Sky Sports F1 expert Martin Brundle toasts Sebastian Vettel's incredible career - and casts doubt on a Formula 1 return - while also reviewing the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Max Verstappen's dominance that sets a mighty bar for 2023...
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was perhaps more about what was happening off track rather than the race itself.
There was a constantly developing storyline about the final F1 race for Sebastian Vettel and it was just great to witness the genuine affection for him.
Perhaps the highlight would have been his unique dinner with the remaining 19 drivers on the grid bidding him farewell. I loved the picture on social media with 20 neatly aligned glasses of water suggesting none of them at least had a beer or glass of wine, and I expect some wonderful stories were told for the benefit of the room only.
When you think back to Seb's days at Red Bull when he and Mark Webber were at each other's throats along with Malaysia's 'Multi 21 Seb' and the big shunt in Istanbul, and his occasional contact with team-mate Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, he wasn't always that saintly, he was just as feisty, selfish and demanding as you'd expect any four-time world champion to be.
Like us all, he has mellowed of course but he's always had that classic 'old head on young shoulders' demeanour and has been a pleasure to encounter and interview over those 15 seasons. He's a class act as a driver and a person and that's why everyone has come to admire and respect him. My personal favourite was when he felt cheated with a penalty at the end of the 2019 Canadian GP and he moved the 1st and 2nd finisher boards around in parc ferme. Classic.
I do remember a quite emotional interview with Fernando Alonso on the grid in Abu Dhabi 2018 as he was saying farewell, and he's just signed a new two-year agreement taking him to at least the end of 2024… but there was more of a finality about Seb's words and actions suggesting he won't be back on the grid. In a German interview, he said that he would be disappointed if he did feel the need to come back because then he would likely have failed on what he plans to do next.
We also saw the last F1 race, at least for a while, for Daniel Ricciardo, Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi which means that with other swaps six of the 20 seats have changed hands. Daniel will work with Red Bull and we have to expect that Mick will find a berth in the Mercedes family. I don't know Nicholas' plans although there has been speculation about IndyCar.
And we welcome Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant and Nyck De Vries, and welcome back Nico Hulkenberg.
The Yas Marina venue looked stunning as always although qualifying ended up being two by two as Red Bull out-qualified two Ferraris who in turn out-qualified both Mercedes. There were few surprises behind and once again Lando Norris shone for McLaren.
As expected the race was all about tyre management and although we were never going to have any rain there wasn't even a safety car to spice things up.
Red Bull pulled clear at the front and while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell looked very racy initially for Mercedes the order up front was largely the same as qualifying in the end.
Hamilton had hit a sausage kerb hard while trying to stay on the outside of an attacking Carlos Sainz at turn six and then scampering across the run off area. Sainz was correctly exonerated after being investigated for forcing Hamilton off, who was then asked to hand the place back to Sainz which he duly did before quickly re-passing him. Then it was announced by race control that there would be no further action for gaining an advantage off track and curiously Hamilton was exonerated too.
The only harm done in all of that was damage to the underneath of Hamilton's Mercedes which was partially helped at his first and only stop for hard compound tyres on lap 18 when they could adjust his front wing to help the aero balance. Then Lewis was very fast until he suffered Merc's first and only mechanical retirement of this 22 GP and three Sprint race season. Impressive.
There was some very entertaining and feisty racing for the lower positions between McLaren, Alpine and Aston Martin which added some much-needed spice to the race.
In commentary I described Max Verstappen's drive as 'Michael Schumacher-esque' because it seemed however slow he was driving his car to preserve tyres he was still pulling away from the field. It was a little less comfortable when Charles Leclerc pitted his Ferrari on lap 21 for hard compound tyres to take to the end of the race because firstly he was driving beautifully, and secondly the car worked very well through this phase of the race.
Ferrari claim to have dummied Red Bull in pitting Checo Perez with a radio call suggesting Leclerc pit if Perez didn't, but always intending to run longer and one-stop anyway. This triggered a Perez pit stop on lap 15 thereby obliging him to stop twice, meaning he had to catch and pass Leclerc if he wanted to finish second in the race and the world championship.
He failed by a frustrating for him 1.322 seconds and he will have been tormented by every back-marker and brake lock up which could have made that difference. Ferrari did well and with Sainz coming home fourth they had quite a flourish to the end of a promising but ultimately disappointing season.
It was a season dominated by Verstappen and Red Bull. Points wise Max finished the equivalent of well over five GP victories ahead of Leclerc in second place, and Red Bull well over four victories ahead of Ferrari. A tale of numerous pole positions and victories along clever strategies, fast pit stops and strong reliability. Congratulations to them all at the track and in the factories, it was immense.
I was very sad to hear some boos for Max at the end, we have experienced that before for the likes of Schumacher, Vettel, Nico Rosberg and others over the decades for various reasons when fans get a strong feeling about something which has or indeed hasn't happened. Red Bull and Team Verstappen could perhaps have played smarter hands in Mexico and Brazil and over the cost cap, but nothing can take away from their utterly dominant performance this season.
Max in particular is at a level which will take some serious beating in the next few seasons.
Hopefully Ferrari and Mercedes can close the gap, and drag the likes of McLaren, Alpine and Aston Martin along with them for a closer championship in 2023.
As ever thank you for your company throughout the season on Sky F1, and for your support of our beloved Formula 1.