For the first time in his career, the double world champion won a single Grand Prix for three successive years, leading from pole to the finish to record an 8.7-second victory and, with it, a 15th triumph this season.
After last year’s late-race drama at the Yas Marina Circuit – it’s hard to imagine a race more dramatic, let’s be honest – Sunday’s season finale was more true to type in Abu Dhabi, where the pole-sitter has now won the past eight times in a row in races that have been largely processional.
Behind Verstappen, all eyes in Abu Dhabi were on the Dutchman’s team-mate Sergio Pérez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who came into the race deadlocked on 290 points in the quest to become runner-up for 2022.
Red Bull Racing had never had its drivers finish first and second in the drivers’ standings before and another slice of history loomed when Pérez qualified second ahead of Leclerc, Red Bull’s first 1-2 in qualifying since the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix.
In their winner-takes-all personal fight, Pérez led Leclerc for the first 33 laps of the 58-lap race, before making a second pit stop for hard tyres for the final 25 laps. This dropped him back into the pack, but with fresher rubber to hunt the Monegasque driver down at the death, as Leclerc rolled the dice with a one-stop strategy.
It was a gamble that just went Ferrari’s way, Leclerc crossing the line 1.3s ahead of Pérez and pipping him for second place for the season by just three points, 308 to 305.
Here’s how the final race of the season shook out under night skies in Abu Dhabi.
When it became clear Ferrari had decided not to stop Leclerc for a second time, Sergio Pérez soon realised the scale of the challenge he had in front of him – 18 seconds in 20 laps at a track where passing is typically at a premium to create a new benchmark for Red Bull Racing. And he so very nearly pulled it off.
With Leclerc’s tyres fading in the final laps, Pérez’s race engineer Hugh Bird suggested his driver “go full send” with his pace and the Mexican obliged. He tore chunks out of Leclerc’s advantage in the final two laps and came out of the final corner of the final lap within touching distance, but it was a case of so close, so far.
n his second season, the Japanese driver finished 17th overall in the world championship, while Alpha Tauri ended up in ninth place in the constructors’ standings.
Gasly described his final weekend with the team as “very emotional,” while for Tsunoda, ending his partnership with the only F1 team-mate he’s ever had elicited a mix of feelings.
“I’ll be sad to see Pierre go, he’s been a really good team-mate both on and off the track,” Tsunoda said. “We became real friends away from the track and we also had a great professional relationship. I learned a lot from him.”
The traditional season-ender in Abu Dhabi is always a time to reminisce, with several drivers appearing for their 2022 teams for the final time and others set to step away from the sport – some for good.
Top of that list is four-time world champion for Red Bull Racing, Sebastian Vettel. The German finished 10th in his 299th and final race for Aston Martin before retirement and was voted as Driver of the Day by the sport’s fans.
The on-track action hasn’t completely stopped for 2022 – there’s the traditional post-race Young Drivers’ Test set for Abu Dhabi from November 22-23 – but everyone in F1 will be ready to recharge and reset for what’s scheduled to be the biggest season in the sport’s history in 2023.
A 24-race calendar kicks off with the opening round in Bahrain on March 5, with six Sprint Races scheduled at Grands Prix yet to be determined. France drops off the calendar from this year, while China and Qatar make their returns. The biggest new inclusion is Las Vegas, with F1 set to roar for the first time around the famed Sin City Strip in the penultimate round of 2023 on November 18.
Before all of that? Pre-season testing kicks off with three days of running in Bahrain from February 23-25.
Source Red Bull Magazine.