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F1 Finale: 5 Storylines to Watch at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The 73rd season of Formula 1 comes to a close this weekend at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi. Even with both the Drivers and Constructors Championships wrapped up, there is plenty to watch for. A four-time World Champion is one of four drivers saying goodbye (for now) to F1. Can Mercedes’ newly found form help Lewis Hamilton pick up his first win of 2022? Are the issues resolved at Red Bull after a disagreement between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez?

Plus keep an eye on the F2 action this weekend as American Logan Sargeant looks to finish in the top six in the Championship earning enough Super License points to join F1 next year.

1. Sebastian Vettel

It’s been over 15 years since Vettel made his Formula 1 debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road-course configuration. He finished 8th that day before joining Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) for the final seven races of the 2007 season. What would follow is one of the most decorated F1 careers in the history of the sport. Four World Championships, 53 wins, 122 podiums, from nearly 300 career starts. He holds the records for the Youngest World Champion, the youngest driver to win a pole, most consecutive wins (9), and most poles in a season (15). Vettel drove for half the grid during his career – Red Bull, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Toro Rosso, and Sauber (now Alfa Romeo) for his debut. His career saw him transform from an incredibly talented young driver to an all-conquering World Champion and more recently a beloved figure in the paddock passionate about improving the planet and F1’s role in that fight. Vettel will be sorely missed next season and goes down as one of the all-time greats in F1 history.

2. Red Bull Issues

Brazil was a weekend to forget for Red Bull Racing. After nine straight wins, the team failed to place either driver on the podium since the opening round of the season back in March. For the first time this season, Mercedes and Ferrari drivers were passing Max Verstappen on track. And then there was the disagreement about swapping places at the end of the Grand Prix. Verstappen ignored team orders to swap positions back with Sergio Perez for 6th and 7th to help Perez in his Championship battle with Charles Leclerc (which is now tied heading into the final race).

This is despite Verstappen having the title already won this year and the numerous times Perez has helped Max both this year and last. Verstappen claimed to ‘have his reasons’ but refused to clarify what those reasons were. Perez was understandably upset after the race saying that Max had him to thank for his two F1 World Championships. Red Bull claims the issue is behind them now, but will Verstappen help Perez this weekend in Abu Dhabi? While Max is clearly Red Bull’s No. 1 driver, the decision showed his lack of leadership and appreciation.

3. Mercedes & Hamilton Surging

Finally, in the end, we are seeing the Mercedes everyone expected at the start of the year. Not only did they, and George Russell, get their first win in Brazil, Lewis Hamilton has finished second in each of the last three races. Over the past few months, the car developed a reputation of being just off the top in qualifying but having good race pace. Now we are seeing a Mercedes car that is close in qualifying and nearly equal to the Red Bull. Interlagos was supposed to be a Red Bull circuit last weekend. Was that an anomaly? Did the weather play a bigger role than expected or has the team turned their focus to next season? Or have Mercedes finally gotten to terms with the new F1 regulations? If so, and given an off-season to improve, we could be in for a very entertaining 2023.

4. F1 Goodbyes?

In addition to Vettel, Formula 1 will say farewell, at least temporarily, to another three drivers after this weekend. Long-time staple and fan-favorite Daniel Ricciardo exits McLaren having struggled to recapture his pace in their setup. He is still rumored to be in contention for the reserve driver role at either Red Bull or Mercedes. Nicholas Latifi’s time comes to a close after three seasons at Williams with reports he could be heading to either IndyCar or the World Endurance Championship (WEC).

And on Thursday, Haas made official what has been expected for weeks now. Mick Schumacher will leave the team after Abu Dhabi to be replaced by Nico Hulkenberg. Hulkenberg had eight seasons in F1 at Williams, Force India (now Aston Martin), and Renault (now Alpine). He has subbed in twice in each of the last two seasons when Perez and Vettel were sidelined due to COVID. His return sees Haas prioritize experience over long-term potential as they integrate a new top-line sponsor next season.

5. Constructors Battles

The team championship has been won, but that doesn’t end the battles throughout the rest of the grid and for the supporters around the world. Bragging rights, millions of dollars in prize money, and wind tunnel time are all to be decided in a trio of close fights. At one point it was unthinkable that Mercedes could overtake Ferrari. However, continual improvement for the Silver Arrows and a series of technical and strategic errors see Ferrari just 19 points ahead going into the final race. If Mercedes were to finish 1-2 again this weekend, Ferrari would need to finish third and at least fifth to retain second place.

In the mid-table, Alfa Romeo is just five points ahead of Aston Martin. Both cars have shown potential lately. Can Vettel have a send-off in the points or will Bottas’ excellent history in Abu Dhabi tip the balance in Alfa Romeo’s favor? And behind that pair, Haas are just two points in front of AlphaTauri. Both teams will feature new lineups next season and a single finisher in the points could garner additional funds for off-season development.

How To Watch (all times ET)

  • Practice 1 – Friday 11/18 – 4:55 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Practice 2 – Friday 11/18 – 7:55 am – ESPNEWS/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • F1 Show – Friday 11/18 – 9:15 am – ESPN3/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Practice 2 – Saturday 11/19 – 5:25 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Qualifying – Saturday 11/19 – 8:55 pm – ESPNEWS/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Grand Prix Sunday (Pre-race Show) – Sunday 11/20 – 6:30 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Grand Prix Race – Sunday 11/20 – 7:55 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
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