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Battles throughout the grid will lead to tense showdowns in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton and Verstappen resumed their battle in Sao Paulo (Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool via Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Battles throughout the grid will lead to tense showdowns in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton and Verstappen resumed their battle in Sao Paulo (Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool via Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Abu Dhabi: The final battles and showdowns

As the season wraps up, scores still need to be settled up and down the grid. Who will emerge victorious?

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Although Max Verstappen and Red Bull have wrapped up both titles, Abu Dhabi will still see intense final showdowns up throughout the grid. Expect fierce and intense battles until the chequered flag falls. 

Battles have changed since the first showdown in Bahrain as F1 heads to Abu Dhabi (Image Credit: Formula 1. com)
Battles have changed since the first showdown in Bahrain as F1 heads to Abu Dhabi (Image Credit: Formula 1. com)

What a year 2022 has been. Starting as a battle between Red Bull and Ferrari, it instead turned into a display of crushing dominance by Max Verstappen. That said, plenty of drama and showdowns have taken place across the season. The chaotic sprint race in Brazil added further drama to an already delicately balanced situation. Kevin Magnussen’s surprise pole position, Ferrari’s qualifying own goal and Mercedes’s split fortunes set up a vital race on Sunday.

The sprint itself saw several teams put huge pressure on its rivals. Mercedes ended with the dream scenario of setting up a main race front-row lockout. This placed Ferrari in real danger of being caught in the race for P3 in the Constructors Championship. Alpine’s spectacular own goal between its drivers saw both its drivers line up on the penultimate row after colliding.  Rivals McLaren started P7 and P11.

Then the main race saw the carefully written script torn up. McLaren’s race imploded, while even inter-team tensions at Alpine could not prevent the team from taking a huge advantage into the final round next weekend. Mercedes’s stunning one-two victory looked set at one point to obliterate Ferrari’s lead over it in the constructor’s championship. Leclerc spun out after contact with Lando Norris while Sainz failed to keep up with the silver cars. A strong recovery limited the damage, but second place for Mercedes is now very much game on.

Differences in finishing positions in the constructor’s championship are a high-stakes business for the teams. It can mean millions of extra or fewer dollars in prize money from the FIA. Even in an era of cost caps, more money equals more opportunity to develop cars. Several key showdowns will take place in Abu Dhabi. The consequences of failure to achieve the desired position will have huge ramifications for 2023.

Haas and AlphaTauri: Battle for P8
Haas and AlphaTauri battled once again in Brazil, with Haas's weekend ruined on Sunday (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool via Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Haas and AlphaTauri battled once again in Brazil, with Haas’s weekend ruined on Sunday (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool via Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Although a battle towards the back of the pack, the team that finishes in P8 in the constructor’s championship will see a huge difference in prize money awarded compared to P9. Both teams will be pushing hard to achieve P8. Both are teams used to better results, so will want to use the extra winnings to invest heavily in 2023.  That the teams are separated by just one point going into the finale adds to the perfect recipe for a great showdown. Haas has seven retirements to AlphaTauri’s nine, any further retirements are not recommended.

Haas has truly bounced back after a traumatic and testing 2021 campaign. Racing at the back of the field all season, it never came close to scoring any points. Then in the off-season, Nikita Mazepin and title sponsor Uralkali departed after Haas terminated both details. Kevin Magnussen returned on the eve of the season, proving to be a revelation for the team. The team has finished 17 out of 22 races, with an average race position of 13th for Magnussen. When the car has been on pace, Magnussen has wrestled it to points finishes including a sensational P5 at the season opener. His surprise pole position is his clear highlight.

Schumacher has struggled, not on the same pace as his Danish teammate. His first few races of the season were marred by spectacular and costly crashes.  This resulted in new parts being fitted to Magnussen’s car in the first instance. Brief flashes of speed and two points finishes in Britain and Austria are his highlights. Brazil qualifying proved painful, lining up P20 while his teammate took an opportunistic pole position. The race saw the team fail to gain any further points. Ricciardo took out Magnussen, while under pressure Schumacher failed to finish inside the top ten. One point from the sprint race is a poor result from a promising weekend.

AlphaTauri have watched helplessly as the gap to the rest of the field increased.  The team’s mid-season scoring drought of six races hurt the team badly, and P9 is now the worst-case scenario. Failure to capitalise on Haas’s bad day at the office means two points now separate the teams going into Abu Dhabi.  The 2020 win for Gasly must feel like an eternity ago now. Despite his below-par machinery, Gasly has taken every opportunity to score points.  P5 in Baku remains his best result.

Yuki Tsunoda’s temper is more under control in 2022, but occasionally it will still come through on the radio. Like Schumacher at Haas, he has scored half as many points as Gasly, with 12 points compared to Gasly’s 21. AlphaTauri will need Tsuonda at his best in Abu Dhabi if this showdown is going to go its way.

Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo: Battle for P6
Alfa Romeo lead the battle for P6 with Aston Martin. The showdown will be tough for Aston to win (Image Credit: @ValtteriBottas on Twitter)
Alfa Romeo leads the battle for P6 with Aston Martin. The showdown will be tough for Aston to win (Image Credit: @ValtteriBottas on Twitter)

These two teams have seen vastly opposing fortunes at the start of 2022. Alfa Romeo rose spectacularly from its 2021 slump.  New signing Valtteri Bottas achieved points finishes, regularly in the top seven.  Aston Martin meanwhile endured a complete horror show. Its AMR22 hopelessly slow, out in Q1 in the first three rounds and being lapped. Sebastian Vettel missed the first two races due to Covid-19, then crashed out on his return in Australia.  Lance Stroll suffered the humiliation of substitute driver Nico Hulkenberg finishing a lap of him in Jeddah.  The season ahead looked bleak.

The team ended its point duck at round four in Imola, with the first major first upgrade of the season for Aston Martin arriving two rounds later in Barcelona. The upgrade suspiciously resembled the race-winning Red Bull RB18. The team was absolved of any design espionage, but the resemblance to this day remains uncanny. Regular points finishes remained elusive, but further upgrades and consistency have seen the team make up sizeable ground. The sprint race incident that saw Stroll force his teammate off the track does not show teamwork or an understanding of the stakes that lie ahead for the team. With only six DNF’s the momentum very much remains with Aston Martin.

Alfa Romeo by comparison enjoyed a remarkable start to the season. A double points finish for both drivers at the season opener set the scene for a strong first half of 2022.  Bottas went on a five-race scoring streak, including a P5 and P6. Further double points finish followed at round nine in Canada. This remains Alfa Romeo’s best result of the season so far.

However, reliability has proved to be Alfa Romeo’s Achilles heel this year. 11 retirements have seen the team lose ground on the top five. Bottas and Zhou have lost almost certain points finishes due to engine failure, gearbox failure, a water leak, cooling system failure and a hydraulic problem. The reliability has mostly affected Zhou, with the points tally reflecting this. Bottas has a commendable 49 points, while Zhou has just six. In terms of pace, Aston Martin can have the edge over the Swiss team at certain tracks. Alfa Romeo rode out the chaotic Sao Paulo GP, with Bottas securing P9, and Lance Stroll only securing a solitary point for Aston Martin. Five points separate the teams as the Abu Dhabi showdown approaches. The advantage very much belongs to Alfa Romeo, as Aston Martin will need a P7 at the very least to stand a chance of catching them.

McLaren and Alpine: Battle for P4
The battle for P4 now looks beyond McLaren's breach (Image Credit: @McLarenF1 on Twitter)
The battle for P4 now looks beyond McLaren’s reach (Image Credit: @McLarenF1 on Twitter)

McLaren on paper has no business challenging Alpine for P4 in the constructor’s championship.  The MCL36 started the season with a crippling brake problem that saw it run a compromised set-up in Bahrain. Finishing at the back of the pack, papaya fans were braced for a return to the nadir of the Honda years. But the team bounced back spectacularly, with P5 and P6 at the third round in Australia.  Lando Norris followed this up with a P3 at the next round in Imola.

Daniel Ricciardo has endured a more challenging season than 2021, with no win to provide a rest bite. Norris has scored the vast majority of McLaren’s points in 2022, Norris on 107 to Ricciardo’s 32. McLaren’s turnaround in pace has been remarkable, with only three retirements across the season. If two cars scored points regularly, McLaren’s 2022 could have been vastly different. However, the MCL36 is still a long way off the pace of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.  McLaren ideally needs both drivers to score in Abu Dhabi if it is to achieve P4 in the constructor’s championship.

Alpine, its rival for this year, has suffered seven retirements, all bar one being reliability related. Issues have afflicted the team since the start of the season, with Fernando Alonso suffering a water pump failure at the second round in Jeddah. A poor showing at Imola proved to be the turning point of the season, with double points at 10 races through the rest of the year. However, from round 16 at Monza, reliability issues began to afflict the team again. Alonso retired with a water pressure problem. Both cars retired at the next round in Singapore with engine failure. Alonso suffered another engine failure in Mexico City. McLaren then capitalised at Monza and Singapore, closing the gap further. A tense showdown looked inevitable.

P7 at Mexico City proved to be a false dawn for Ricciardo and McLaren. A strong sprint race saw Norris line up P6 and Ricciardo P11. Ricciardo then took out Kevin Magnussen, retiring instantly. An unwell Norris collided with Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, before retiring later in the race.  Alonso endured a challenging sprint in Brazil, and a collision with teammate Esteban Ocon resulted in tense team orders in the race for Ocon.  A weekend that looked to be all over for Alpine by end of Saturday suddenly looks very rosy going into the final race.  McLaren will need a miracle to score the 20 points needed to overhaul Alpine. This battle sadly now looks done.

As Alonso and Ricciardo prepare to depart their teams after Abu Dhabi, resets at both teams will not be a bad thing at all for morale. McLaren and Alpine have suffered from their own individual set of circumstances and will look forward to a refreshed lineup for 2023. Rather than a showdown on the track, one can argue the teams have been dealing with similar situations off it.

Mercedes and Ferrari: Battle for P2
The two Mercedes lead Sergio Perez in Sao Paulo, with Carlos Sainz in hot pursuit (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool via Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari’s 2022 started with such promise. Two wins in the first three races for Charles Leclerc gave the Scuderia genuine hope that the team could end its title drought. Extending back to 2008, its last title challenge in 2019 with Sebastian Vettel fell away, with an awful 2020 following. The F1-75 looked fast and reliable, with Leclerc taking 9 poles, and teammate Carlos Sainz taking three. However, as we know, this is the point that the fairytale turns into a nightmare.

Leclerc has won just three races in 2022, all in the first half of the season. Sainz took a solitary maiden win at Silverstone but has yet to add to this. In comparison, Red Bull has won a combined 16. The team has had an unfortunate habit of shooting itself in the foot with highly questionable strategic calls. Its qualifying debacle in Sao Paulo is latest in a series of gaffes from the team. Nine retirements across the season to date when coupled with calls that include the Scuderia fitting hard tyres to Leclerc on a damp track in Hungary mean Ferrari has lost huge ground in the second half of the season. So much so that Mercedes were just 40 points behind going into the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. The originally intended showdown for the title has instead become a fraught salvage operation.

Mercedes could see this season as a failure. In its most difficult season since 2011, George Russell or Lewis Hamilton have yet to score a victory (sorry George, the sprint race cannot be classed as a race win).  The W13 suffered from extreme porpoising at the start of the year, to the point Hamilton suffered from back pain in Baku. Once rectified the Silver Arrows have been consistent high points scorers, with 15 podiums, both drivers achieving a second place.

But it is that consistency and evolution that has seen Mercedes slowly creep up on Ferrari. Mercedes are an elite operation and simply, a better one than Ferrari at present. Ferrari can take solace from an outstanding comeback drive by Leclerc in Sunday’s race. Hitting the barrier after colliding with the McLaren of Lando Norris, Mercedes looked set to take second place in the championship.

Instead, Leclerc drove a flawless attacking race. Combined with Carlos Sainz’s P3, the gap is now a more healthy 19 points. But make no mistake.  After its impressive one-two finish in Brazil, the team has a real chance of snatching second place in the constructor’s championship away from the Scuderia at the very last race. This achievement would highlight the determination of Mercedes, but also showcase the sheer scale of Ferrari’s decline and failure in 2022. If the Scuderia lose second place at Abu Dhabi, Maranello can expect a very tough off-season indeed.

Sergio Perez: Battle for P2
Sergio Perez's battle with Charles Leclerc has seen him in an unexpected showdown with his own teammate ahead of Abu Dhabi (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool via Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez’s battle with Charles Leclerc has seen him in an unexpected showdown with his teammate ahead of Abu Dhabi (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool via Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari is not just looking over its shoulder at the threat of Mercedes. Having lost touch with Verstappen’s Red Bull, Charles Leclerc is in very real danger of losing second place in the driver’s championship. Currently, level on points with the Red Bull of Sergio Perez after a difficult Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Leclerc must finish ahead of Perez in Abu Dhabi.

Finishing P3 in the overall standings would be a spectacular failure for Leclerc and Ferrari, marking the challenges of this season for the Monegasque and Ferrari. Where did 2022 go wrong? Rounds six and eight saw Leclerc retire with turbo and engine failures. While a win would follow at round 11 in Austria, this would be his final win of the year so far. Spinning out at the next round at Paul Ricard, Leclerc has never come close to winning since. Ferrari threw away victories in Belgium, Hungary and Italy, to accompany the Silverstone debacle.

Perez’s season has been as chequered as Leclerc’s. A few races this year have seen the Mexican driver fade into obscurity and struggling to keep up with his record-breaking teammate. This includes Q2 eliminations and finishing far behind Verstappen in races. His Singapore victory and consistency since then have brought him back into contention.

However, Verstappen’s very public refusal to assist his teammate for cryptic reasons sets up an almighty showdown in Abu Dhabi. The ramifications from Brazil are already being felt by the team, and Red Bull will have a very hard time explaining and managing this situation.  If (and this is a very big if) Verstappen chooses to assist Perez in Abu Dhabi, Perez now has all the tools he needs to achieve his best-ever place in the driver’s championship. With Leclerc wanting to take second place, expect plenty of fireworks in Abu Dhabi before the end of race display. These are likely to be more dramatic and far more explosive.

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool via Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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