Formula 1 Returns to the UAE at Abu Dhabi this Sunday
By: Drew Jackson / Arab America Contributing Writer
The 2022 Formula 1 season is gearing up for its final race this Sunday at Abu Dhabi’s very own Yas Marina Circuit.
The UAE has hosted the Formula 1 grid since 2009 at this venue. Since Bahrain hosted its first Grand Prix in 2004, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have added races to the calendar, giving F1 a true Middle East leg of the season.
After a long season drivers have changed teams, champions have been made, and teams have imploded or improved. Setting the stage for an exciting season finale, let’s get up to speed on the most recent headlines in the sport and the context of the larger season.
Rumors Ferrari Sacking Team Principal Binnoto
Ferrari had a lightening start to what looked to be the outfit’s first winning season since 2008, and its first driver’s championship since Kimi Raikonen in 2007. With easily the fastest car during the first half of the season as well as two strong drivers in Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, it appeared to be Ferrari’s championship to lose.
Charles Leclerc started hot with two wins in the first three races, while Max Verstappen and RedBull saw reliability issues force them to retire twice in the same time span. As the season drew on, however, Verstappen dominated Leclerc and Ferrari winning five of the next seven races.
Ferrari spluttered during this time having to retire from multiple races. To compound the frustrating reliability issues Leclerc saw a dip in form and several crucial mistakes while leading Grand Prix. To make matters worse Ferrari has had issues executing strategies throughout the season. Ferrari’s pit wall has regularly given away victories over the course of the season, and RedBull continued to get faster while Ferrari’s upgrades and poor strategy did little to stop the bleeding.
After a disappointing season in a long line of disappointing seasons, Ferrari is left fending off Mercedes for second place in the championship, and Ferrari’s executives are reportedly in the process of replacing their team principal Mattia Binnoto.
Reported first by Italian outlet Gazzette dello Sport, Ferrari is allegedly moving on from Binnoto and replacing him with current Alfa Romeo team principal Fred Vasseur. Ferrari’s team has publicly denied the allegations stating, “In relation to speculation in certain media regarding Scuderia Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto’s position, Ferrari states that these rumors are totally without foundation.”
Whether or not Binnoto is being let go, Ferrari is entering the weekend under threat of losing second place in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. The Italian outfit who is the winningest constructor in F1 history must regroup next season if they are to achieve success in the near future.
Mercedes 1-2 in Brazil After Down Season
Mercedes has had a down year after a dominant streak of 8 constructors’ and 7 drivers’ championships.
When the UK racing outfit showed up to winter testing, they brought a radically different car compared to the rest of the grid. The car, meant to optimize the new ground effect chassis, featured no side pod aerodynamics and immediately struggled. The Mercedes’ struggled primarily due to “porpoising” an up-and-down bouncing which is a side effect of ground effect aerodynamics. This means that Mercedes was unable to run their car close enough to the ground to get the full benefit of its aerodynamic design.
Mercedes’ pace has been severely hindered by this problem, but they have improved throughout the season, with upgrades that saw them consistently finishing in the top three during the last half of the season. The uptick in performance finally came to fruition with the team’s first win of the season this past Sunday at the Brazilian GP. To make the win extra sweet, they secured a 1-2 finish with Lewis Hamilton second, and George Russell earning his first career win.
Mercedes has looked strong in the previous races and are currently the second favored team for the upcoming weekend, as they look to secure second in the championship from the struggling Ferrari.
Tempers Flare at RedBull After Slow Brazil Outing
The dominant team this season has been the RedBull Racing Team, led by defending champion Max Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez.
The English outfit has secured its first constructors’ championship since 2013, with Drivers’ Champion Max Verstappen winning a record 14 races this season. The historic season has brought RedBull incredible success capitalizing on the dominant form of Max Verstappen’s championship season in 2021.
All has seemed good at RedBull over the past two seasons. With a dominant no.1 driver in Verstappen, and a team-first no.2 driver in Perez, the team has seen little tension within the garage and has been able to execute race strategy better than any other team thus far.
Sunday however, proved there may be more tension at RedBull as Verstappen refused to allow Sergio Perez to pass in the closing stages of the race. Perez is locked in a tight battle for second place in the championship with Ferrari driver Leclerc. Verstappen, who wrapped up the championship over a month ago, is in a position to help his teammate but refused to do so over team radio.
When asked by his team after the race why he did not let his teammate pass, Verstappen fired back over the radio, “I told you already. You guys don’t ask that again to me. Are you clear about that? I gave you my reasons and I stand by it.”
It has been reported by multiple outlets such as SkySports F1 and ESPN that Verstappen’s actions may have been payback for the actions of Sergio Perez earlier in the season.
At the Monaco Grand Prix, when Verstappen was still tightly locked in a championship fight, Perez allegedly spun his car on purpose after securing pole position in qualifying. This intentional spin denied Verstappen, who was on a flying lap behind, from getting a shot at likely securing pole position in the race.
Due to the close-quartered nature of the Monaco GP, qualifying is incredibly important and is often the deciding factor in winning the race.
Perez went on to win the race on Sunday while Verstappen finished a disappointing third, throwing away around 10 points in his championship fight.
According to team principal Christian Horner, the team has discussed the debacle internally, and have cleared the air between the drivers before this weekend’s race. Verstappen has since stated his intention to help Perez in any way he can ahead of Abu Dhabi.
“For sure, if we go to Abu Dhabi and he needs the points because they’re tied, it’s not the end of the world, it’s all about who finishes ahead anyway. If he needs the help, I’ll be there,” Verstappen said to ESPN.
As RedBull enters the final race they look to beat the resurgent Mercedes, but it seems their primary race will be against the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.
What to Expect This Weekend
Max Verstappen is favored to win by the BetMGM sportsbook at +125 as has been the norm this season. As a result of their dominant showing, this past weekend Hamilton (+250) is second favored, and teammate Russell (+350) is the third favorite, as he looks to repeat last weekend’s success.
Additionally, Perez is the fourth favorite to win (+800) ahead of the two Ferrari drivers Leclerc (+1000) and Sainz (+1400).
Although betting odds can be misleading, especially after Mercedes’ dominant form last weekend, it does seem as though RedBull will again have the edge due to the layout of the Yas Marina Circuit. My best early prediction for the finishing order this weekend would be Verstappen (1), Hamilton (2), and Perez (3), but qualifying on Saturday is sure to shake this prediction up.
There are several deciding battles up and down the grid as well. Mercedes (505) is closing in on Ferrari (524). If both of their drivers can finish on the podium and at least one of the Ferrari drivers finishes outside of the top eight or fails to finish the race, then Mercedes will win the fight for second.
Alpine F1 team also has a tight race between drivers Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon as they are separated by just five points in the championship. Alpine is currently fourth in the championship with 167 points with McLaren down 19 points in 5th place. McLaren will need a strong showing from drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Riccardio if they have any chance of retaining their championship finish from last year.
To watch the Grand Prix in America, ESPN will be covering all sessions. The race is set to air at 8 a.m. EST, qualifying at 9 a.m. EST, and the practice sessions in the early hours of Friday and Saturday morning.
Data on points collected from the Official Website of Formula 1
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