After 21 rounds in 19 countries, the 2022 FIA Formula 1 World Championship has reached its final round this weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit, the venue of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix since 2009 and also where racing after sunset began for F1. Since 2014, it has been the last round of the championship and is likely to remain so till the end of the decade.
Last year saw changes made which resulted in a faster, more flowing track, with improved overtaking opportunities. The main changes were removing the old chicane at the start of the second sector and widening the following hairpin. The twisty chicanes at the start of the final sector were replaced by one long, banked corner. This has improved overtaking possibilities into the hairpin at Turn 5, at the new banked Turn 9 and in the final sector where the corners in the hotel complex were opened up.
The changes also reduced the lap length from 5.554 kms to 5.281 kms, which saw the number of laps increasing from 55 to 58 for a total distance of 3.06.2 kms. Almost all of the laps will be run after the sun has gone down, with the race starting at 5 pm and the sun setting 35 minutes later. 4,700 lights turn night into day for the drivers as they race around at over 330 km/h.
The changes to the track increased speeds and loads through some corners. However, as the circuit will still be smooth, with average stress on the tyres in terms of wear and degradation, the 3 softest compounds in the P Zero range will again be the suitable choice, according to Pirelli.
“Last year’s modifications to some of the straights and corners on the Yas Marina track have made the circuit faster, balancing the longitudinal and lateral demands on the tyres – whereas previously it was more about traction and braking,” said Pirelli’s Mario Isola, Director of Motorsports. “Despite these changes to the layout, there is still going to be a lot of attention paid to the rear tyres in order to guarantee the best traction over long stints.”
The teams are obviously familiar with the circuit and how to set up for it. They have also come to understand how to make compensations for the differences in track temperatures that are higher during the early practices but cooler for qualifying and the race which occurs in the evening.
The pit lane at Yas Marina is the only one in F1 to feature a tunnel. Drivers pass under the track at the pit lane exit, re-joining on the left-hand side of Turn 2. It’s a tricky place to feed cars back onto the racing line as they return to the circuit mid-corner and can sometimes be unsighted.
With Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing already confirmed as winners of the Drivers and Constructors titles for 2022, attention at this season finale focuses on the tight battle for the runners-up spot in the Drivers Championship. Verstappen’s unwillingness to help his team mate Sergio Perez move forward and get extra points in Brazil meant that Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is even with him so it will be a fight right to the finish. Both drivers have 290 points but Leclerc is considered as runner-up because he won more races this year.
In the Constructors Championship, 19 points separate Ferrari from the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS team after the latter scored a 1-2 result in Brazil. Further down, 5 points separate Alfa Romeo ORLEN and Aston Martin who will also want to try to move up with a good finish.
The Mercedes-AMG team has had the most wins at this race, with 6 consecutive victories between 2014 and 2019, and 5 of which were by Lewis Hamilton. If Red Bull Racing, which won last year, can win again tomorrow, then it would equal the score.
Farewell to Sebastian Vettel
This is the final F1 race for Sebastian Vettel, as the 4-time World Champion will retire after his 299th F1 start tomorrow. Seb, as he is often called, made his F1 debut in 2007 at the US Grand Prix. Over the 16 years since, he has won 53 times, putting him third on the list of all-time winners, behind Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91).
He holds the record for most consecutive wins in a season, with 9 scored in 2013 and his 4 titles in a row between 2010 and 2013 is a tally matched by Hamilton and Juan Manuel Fangio, and only surpassed by Schumacher. Vettel remains the sport’s youngest champion as he was 23 years and 134 days old when he won his first race in 2010.