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Curtain drops in UAE
As the football fraternity descends on neighbouring Qatar for the FIFA World Cup, more than a few other glances will be on the United Arab Emirates this weekend as the 2022 Formula 1 season concludes with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
With 21 races in the books, a season that began in Bahrain back in March comes full circle once more to the Middle East for the campaign’s denouement.
A year that has seen Max Verstappen romp toward defending his title, the latter stages of the term may have seemed more of a procession but as the sun sets on the season in the desert, the last few weeks have still seen fascinating pointers for what might be to come in 2023.
And, though this year’s trip to the Manhattan of the Middle East has significantly less riding on it than last year’s remarkable climax, there remains enough drama in the paddock to whet the appetite.
Verstappen insists ‘miscommunication’ in past
Red Bull’s nine-race winning streak was brought to an end in Sao Paulo, as a Mercedes 1-2 denied a perfect-10 in Brazil. However, perhaps the bigger story surrounded Max Verstappen‘s refusal to hand over his place to teammate Sergio Perez.
With the Mexican looking to hold onto runners-up spot in the constructors’ championship, Verstappen was told to return his P6 to Perez having himself failed to get past Fernando Alonso‘s Alpine. The outcome of which has now left Perez level with Charles Leclerc on 290 points heading into Abu Dhabi.
In the post-mortem there was much dissatisfaction but ahead of this weekend, Red Bull have played down any ill-feeling. But are the cracks in the partnership beginning to show? Not according to Verstappen.
Also quick in his attempts to add a sense of clarity to last weekend’s controversy, the Dutchman remains adamant it was a simple blurring of the lines of communication responsible for last weekend’s drama and as he also told F1.com, Verstappen believes he has always been a team player.
“I’ve never been a bad team mate to anyone, I’ve always been very helpful, and the team knows that I always put the team up front, because at the end of the day it is a team effort, so yeah, I think what we learned from that is that we have to be a bit more open and communicate better to each other.”
“We went to Brazil, and I just thought we were going to race and try to get the best possible result, and we had a bit of a miscommunication on Saturday and Sunday; nothing had been said to me about a potential swap or whatever. It only came into that last lap that it was said on the radio, and I think they should’ve known my response already from what I said the week before.”
Watch this space…
Can Mercedes end season on high?
Across the paddock meanwhile, the Silver Arrows are riding high on the wave of euphoria after their long awaited and much-deserved first win of the season came at Interlagos.
With George Russell claiming his maiden win in F1, Lewis Hamilton added to the revelry in the samba nation with an all-British top two on the podium. Boss Toto Wolff will be hopeful of further indicators of perhaps brighter days to come this weekend.
Turn the clock back 12 months ago of course, and Yas Marina was the scene of arguably the most ire-inducing, social media-grabbing incident in the history of motorsport, that saw Hamilton denied a record eighth world title.
A tumultuous season for the Brackley manufacturer, the unprecedented troubles brought on by a change in regulations that Mercedes saw in the spring are now something of a distant memory.
Looking to the end the term on a high here, there would be more than a hint of irony if either Hamilton or indeed Russell left a rather sour taste in Red Bull’s mouth in season’s final race.
Indeed, if that victor happened to be Hamilton, the Briton may even feel a sense of closure after a nightmare 12 months. Regardless, Mercedes are right to feel that next season could be a very different story and Abu Dhabi could yet be a statement outing.
The Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2022 takes place at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi.
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