Ferrari lose P2 at last moment
Just four points separated Mercedes and Ferrari before the final race of the season and a mere three points afterwards, resulting in a better outcome for the Silver Arrows - except in the pit lane!
"We didn't want to end the season like this," said a disappointed Carlos Sainz as he expressed his unhappiness with the outcome. "The last double-header was really tough, and the race here was pre destined to be problematic," he added. First, the manhole cover drama in Las Vegas, which cost Ferrari millions and a good grid slot on the Strip, and then in Abu Dhabi Spanish driver Sainz was eliminated in Q1 during qualifying and was only 16th on the starting grid.
Carlos Sainz had played no real part in the race. "What's the plan?" he had asked his race engineer on the pit radio midway through the race. "We're waiting for the safety car!" came the reply. However, it never materialised, and not even a single yellow flag was waved during the 58 laps at Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari took a gamble, bolting on hard tires for the first stint. Apart from Sainz, only Lance Stroll and Valtteri Bottas were on the hardest compound at the start, the rest were on mediums. The team's dicey strategy didn't work out. Sainz held out for 20 laps on well-worn tires, hoping in vain for a race stoppage.
In the end, Ferrari's fastest pit stop of 2.16 seconds was of little use to Carlos Sainz. Lying in P18 on Lap 56, he finished his race after his final second stop (2.25 seconds) and parked up. He was having a disastrous weekend just like his counterpart from the Mercedes garage - Charles Leclerc and George Russell were lone fighters in the scrap for the constructors' title.
"I had a good car, and we had the right strategy," said Charles Leclerc. "My P2 was never under threat, but unfortunately, Checo's penalty cost us dearly in the end!" Would you believe it? Red Bull actually helped Mercedes secure the position of runners-up in the constructors' championship.
Charles Leclerc tried every trick in the book, letting 'Checo', Sergio Perez, who had been handed a penalty, go through just before the finish. The plan was to help him pull out a bigger gap, so that he could claim P3 and Ferrari P2 in the world championship. But there was a problem. The Mexican driver had earlier received a five-second penalty for a collision with Lando Norris.
By the end of the race, though, the 6.125-second margin was simply not enough, and Perez dropped down to fourth place in the standings. "If only you had slowed me down…" said George Russell after the race, reminding Charles Leclerc of a different strategy that Perez had used to help Verstappen win the 2021 world championship title.
"I didn't want to make you slow down, because I was a bit apprehensive," was Leclerc's reply. It would have meant driving with absolute razorblade precision, as he would then have had to drop back another two and a half more seconds precisely behind Russell and yet be no more than five seconds down on Perez. Leclerc said: "There were only two tenths separating us, and Checo could have overtaken me."
As a result, George Russell took P3 and the runner-up title for Mercedes. Two years after the heart stopping finale, teammate Lewis Hamilton was busy scrapping with Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri instead of with Max Verstappen in the Red Bull and couldn't do better than P9, giving him two points that didn't actually count for much in the end. There was at least some more good news for Ferrari. With their P3, the team from Maranello get more time in the wind tunnel.