Nine laps before the end of a great career that has seen him experience four world championship titles, 53 race wins and 57 pole positions, Sebastian Vettel once again shows the ambition that drove him to all that glory in the first place. On the radio, he reports to his team with a crisp tirade: “How can you be so wrong with your strategy?!” Vettel scolds. And of course he’s right! For his departure, the strategists at Aston Martin had considered a race with only one pit stop – a bad idea that almost flushed him out of the points on ancient tires shortly before the end. Just because his old rival and friend Lewis Hamilton rolled out with a defect, Vettel just dragged himself to tenth place. And earned the one last point that increased his career count from 3097 to 3098 points.
Not that it changes the balance sheet much. But sometimes it’s a matter of principle.
World champion Max Verstappen also jumped to the top of the podium at the season finale. Second was the Ferrari driver Charles Leclercwho also ended the season in second overall because he left Sergio Perez in third place and thus behind him.
“I would have liked to have scored a few more points,” said Vettel after letting the tires smoke on the home stretch one last time for fun. But then he looked with happy eyes in the direction of the grandstands with the many German flags, thanked him with a “big thank you” and said: “There are much more important things than driving in circles, but it’s what we love!”
It suits Vettel’s career that he managed his best qualifying lap in years in the last race
And now the Vettel years are over in Formula 1, the 299th race was his last. And the Schumacher years are over for the time being, after two seasons. Because Williams’ preferred candidate Logan Sargeant secured the necessary points for a license in Formula 1 in Formula 2, and he can thus get the last free cockpit, Mick Schumacher will ideally spend a year as a test and reserve driver at Mercedes have to make friends. He said goodbye with a driving error, in the final phase he misjudged entering a corner, braked too late, spun Nicholas Latifi and himself on the track, received a 5-second penalty – and finished 16th.
Vettel got a few nice memories from his long-time colleagues on the last weekend together. On Thursday, all 20 drivers dined at the five-star Hakkasan restaurant at Lewis Hamilton’s initiative, after which they shared photos of the expensive feast on social media, which in turn were shared by millions. According to SZ information, the story is actually true that Hamilton paid the bill. In case you are wondering: unlike in Germany, it is customary in Great Britain for a well-behaved guest to invite someone who has something to celebrate. Hamilton obviously didn’t let that go. The next day, Vettel himself invited his colleagues to a free, nightly run around the track, for which white T-shirts were distributed. “Thank you Seb,” read the front. And the team from TV rights holder Sky gave him a pair of alpacas for his farm in Switzerland, for whatever reason. Yes, actually two even-toed ungulates, Latin Vicugna pacos, the species of camel originating from the Andes. “Hopefully I don’t get spat on,” Vettel joked.
Fernando Alonso, however, made the most wonderful gesture, promising Vettel an escort for his last race and saying: “We want a smooth weekend for him. I’ll take care of him at the start and on the first lap.” Oh yes, he will do his best for Vettel to see the checkered flag. Alonso kept his word. However, due to a late defect, he did not see the finish line himself.
Of course, it was fitting for Vettel’s wondrous career that he managed his best qualifying lap in years in the last race of all places. He started ninth. And behind him was Alonso, who is actually famous for being able to spread out on the track like a semi-truck.
In addition to all the garlands for Vettel and the mourning for Schumacher, there are more farewells on Sunday
Before the traffic lights went out at the port of Abu Dhabi, all the drivers, the Fia President and the Formula 1 bosses formed a trellis. And then Vettel rolled off with a lot of momentum into his last 59 laps. With great desire for one last scuffle. He immediately made it past Alonso’s teammate Esteban Ocon but had to let him pass again. After eight laps he swept past again, but the Frenchman regained the place again.
Two sporting questions still had to be clarified at the season finale: would Mercedes take third place in the constructors’ championship from Ferrari? And which driver would finish the season second – Perez or Leclerc? The first offered little excitement as it quickly became apparent that Hamilton had apparently damaged his underbody as he left the track – and the team sent George Russell on a collision course into traffic when he visited the pits, earning him a five-second penalty. The second came to a head when the previously second-placed Perez turned for the second tire swap, but Leclerc stayed behind. The Monegasque managed to drag his old set of tires across the finish line, but Perez couldn’t catch him.
Vettel, on the other hand, drove for quite a while in the Alpine sandwich between Ocon and Alonso. After 15 laps, Ocon pitted and gave Vettel the position without a fight – but then caught up very quickly on fresh tires. Vettel stayed on the track for a long time, which temporarily pushed him up to fourth place, but then he was gradually passed by his colleagues on the fresher tires. “That’s the worst, we’ll be eaten up by the others,” Vettel radioed. He is a “sitting duck”, so easy prey. From the end of the field he started to catch up, fought his way into the points – before he was eaten up for the second time.
In addition to all the garlands for Vettel and the mourning for Schumacher, there were more farewells on Sunday. Daniel Ricciardo and Nicholas Latifi also did their last circles for the time being. And Hamilton, who was unable to win a race of the season for the first time, called a dry farewell after his hopping company car in 2022: “I don’t plan on ever driving this thing again,” he clarifies. His boss Toto Wolff showed understanding. He doesn’t think “that it will get the largest space in the Mercedes-Benz Museum”.