Formula One's longest-ever season is complete after an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where Max Verstappen won once again to finish a year of destroying his competition. Charles Leclerc took the vice-champion title after a Ferrari one-stop strategy paid off on the last lap to see him best Sergio Perez. And, although they won easily in Brazil, Mercedes failed to make the finale a three-constructor fight, with Lewis Hamilton concluding his first-ever victory-free year in F1.
The race wasn't nearly as nailbiting – or controversial – as 2021's Abu Dhabi GP, but there was some action to find throughout. The front-row starting Red Bulls led from the start line, with Verstappen running off into a lead that remained unchallenged for all 58 laps. Behind, Hamilton managed to split the Ferrari pair to sit behind Leclerc and ahead of Carlos Sainz to reach P4, while previous race winner George Russell fell back to P7.
With Sainz keeping close to his Mercedes rival Hamilton into the first straight, the Spaniard moved to re-take the place at the chicane. His Ferrari made it alongside Hamilton into the left-hander, but his British rival cut the corner to keep the position in a Lap 1 move eerily similar to one year ago. The risk of a time penalty hung over Hamilton, who eventually voluntarily ceded the position on Lap 4.
The control of fourth place only lasted half a lap, as Hamilton used DRS to overtake Sainz without incident on the approach to Turn 9. However, as with Sainz, Hamilton's time in P4 was short-lived. For the third time, Sainz passed the Mercedes, and to add insult to injury, Russell had fought back from seventh and got on the tail of his teammate, too. T9 was again the spot to pass, as Hamilton slipped back to P6 while complaining about a power loss on the radio.
Perez became the first of the frontrunners to pit on Lap 16 after finding that the Pirelli Medium compound tyre wasn't lasting as long as he'd hoped. Unfortunately for the Mexican, he re-emerged into a midfield fight between world champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. In his eagerness to pass them, the Red Bull driver outbraked himself at Turn 6 to lose what would later become valuable time.
The pit window Perez kicked off saw Russell, Sainz, and Hamilton also stop to switch to new Pirelli Hard tyres for their second stints. Unfortunately for Russell, a slow stop was the least of his worries after his Mercedes crew unsafely let him out into the path of Lando Norris, netting Russell a five-second penalty. Leclerc was the driver last from the 'big-three' teams to pit, with 21 laps on his tyres to open alternate strategy options.
Although Ferrari looked to go until the end with Leclerc, Red Bull didn't hesitate to stop Perez from P2 on Lap 34 for his third set of Pirelli tyres. The two drivers were both desperate to finish P2 in the championship, and splitting the strategy left tyre life be the deciding factor for the vice-champion title. Could Leclerc fend off Perez with Hard Pirellis that would last 37 laps?
Although Alonso suffered yet another Alpine mechanical failure in his last race for the team, and Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi marked their last F1 race by colliding, there weren't any full Safety Car periods to bunch the field up. As a result, Perez needed to put his right foot down to catch Leclerc.
One problem for Perez was Hamilton, who, like Leclerc, had also opted for a one-stop strategy. Hamilton used the little life left in his Pirellis to fend Perez for a lap. Although Perez unexpectedly made it past, he had a 10-second gap to close in on Leclerc with only 12 laps remaining, thanks to the time spent battling the Brit. Another echo back to that fateful 2021 showdown.
As Perez surged forward, a season to forget for Mercedes concluded three laps early for one half of their team as Hamilton retired with a hydraulics failure – the team's only mechanical DNF of the year. Hamilton nursed his car to the pits, meaning Perez again wouldn't get a Safety Car to close in on Leclerc. Although the Mexican took chunks out of the 10s gap to Leclerc, he ended the race 1.3s behind to finish the championship in P3.
Verstappen's win seemed almost unremarkable, such is their frequency in 2022, but he didn't put a wheel wrong from lights out to record his 15th victory this year. Leclerc will be happy to take the runner-up position but will hope his Ferrari team can keep him in the title fight longer next year. The teams now have a three-month break before the 2023 season kicks off at the start of March.