The longest F1 season in history came to an end in Abu Dhabi last weekend. I don’t mean “longest in history” in the sense of it being boring, even though it was definitely more exciting in the first half than in the second. No, it was indeed objectively the longest season so far. Of course it was clear already from a few races back that Max Verstappen would be the undisputed and well-deserved world champion for the second time around. It was however really down to the wire as to whom would finish second, with Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Sergio Perez (Red Bull) starting the race at exactly the same points. In the end Leclerc, fighting like a lion on aging tires, managed to stay in second and thus to finish in second place overall ahead of Perez in third. Well deserved for Ferrari, but it must still leave a bitter taste to know that they could maybe have challenged Red Bull for the title, had there not been as many mishaps and strategy errors during the season.
For Mercedes this was a season to forget, but at least the trend turned upwards in the second half of the season, with Hamilton and Russell being more competitive as races went by. Behind the top three teams McLaren and Alpine formed the next group, although Daniel Ricciardo didn’t find his footing during the whole season and will now leave McLaren for Red Bull, as reserve river in 2023. He’ll be replaced by newcomer Oscar Piastri. Fernando Alonso is moving on to Aston Martin, being replaced by Pierre Gasly who together with Esteban Ocon will make Alpine an all French line-up. Also, veteran Nico Hulkenberg will replace Mick Schumacher at Haas, who hereby doesn’t have a seat for next season. This is a bit surprising given Mick showed a lot of promise, but apparently Haas team boss Günther Steiner found there were a bit too many ups and owns during the season to justify keeping him. It’s not fully clear what Mick will do next year, but he may end up as reserve driver for Mercedes according to rumors.
Alonso moving to Aston Martin means that Sebastian Vettel is calling it a day. He’s been in F1 for as long as anyone can remember but has somehow become a bit anonymous in the last years, given how uncompetitive Aston Martin has been. It almost makes you forget what a stellar career he’s had since his debut on BMW Sauber in 2007, when he stood in for Robert Kubica in Indianapolis and managed to score his first points. In numbers, it sums to an incredible 4 world titles, 53 wins, 122 podiums and 57 poles. He came to Red Bull in 2009 and would then take his four world championship titles in the subsequent years 2010-2013, i.e. four consecutive titles of which the first at 23 years still make him the youngest ever world champion in F1. In 2015 Seb moved on to Ferrari replacing Fernando Alonso and then unsuccessfully challenged Lewis Hamilton for the world title especially in 2017-2018, becoming half Italian and definitely a legend in Italy in the process. He stayed for six years at Ferrari before moving to Aston Martin in 2020.
From being a youngster on the circus 15 years ago, Seb’s gone from quite a hot blooded youngster not always on the right side neither of the rules, nor of sportiness, to a mature man today engaged in climate and LGBTQ questions. No one becomes F1 champion by being nice, as Seb demonstrated in Malaysia in 2013 when his Red Bull team had ordered him to stay behind teammate Mark Webber for the remainder of the race. Seb ignored the order, passed Webber, won the race and later motivated the whole thing with “I was racing, I was faster, I passed him, I won.” Can’t really argue with that, but you can certainly argue with him in Azerbaijan in 2017 when he thought Lewis Hamilton was brake-testing him and decided to drive into Lewis’s car sideways. He apologized for the whole thing afterwards, and the two of them later agreed it’s somehow made them better friends.
Seb himself will tell you he doesn’t need to be remembered, which he of course will be anyway. I would however be surprised if we see him being active on the F1 circus going forward, given his interests today seem to be elsewhere. As for the next F1 season, given how long this one was, it will start sooner than we think and will most probably again be a fight between Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari. Will the latter get their strategy right the whole season, allowing Leclerc or Sainz to fight for the title? Will Mercedes managed to be really competitive again, and will in that case Russell or Hamilton come out on top? And although he’s been the best second driver Red Bull has ever had, can Sergio Perez step out of Verstappen’s shadow and fight for the title? We’ll have a first idea in a few months’ time. if I had to guess though, I think Max Verstappen is well placed to become a three time world champion in 2023 and then perhaps to equal Seb’s four-year stretch in 2024!