Every sport has a final event on its calendar. Some are in the form of a championship game, such as the National Football League’s Super Bowl or the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup. However, it isn’t guaranteed in all sports that the year’s final event will be the championship-deciding event.
Formula One is such a sport, and the season’s final race takes place in Abu Dhabi. This season, three-time champion Max Verstappen clinched his third title far before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. However, this race has seen some incredible title-deciding action in years past.
The Origins of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Unlike most other tracks that have hosted Formula One’s season finale, Abu Dhabi debuted as the final race of the season. In 2008, the FIA announced the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, set to take place as the 19th and final race of the season. It has occurred every season since 2008 and is on the calendar until at least 2030.
Abu Dhabi replaced the Brazil Grand Prix as the final race of the season, and aside from the Australian Grand Prix, it has hosted the finale more often than any other circuit. For years, the drama of this race created intriguing betting choices for race fans.
Greatest Moments: Sebastian Vettel in 2010
Since its inception, Yas Marina has hosted some of the most exciting and heart-stopping moments in Formula One history, but a few moments stand out. While there are seasons like 2022 and 2023 where Formula One crowns a champion before the drivers ever step foot in Abu Dhabi, there are just as many instances of a title decided under the lights at Yas Marina.
In 2010, we got the first iconic moment in the track’s history, as Sebastian Vettel dramatically won his first championship. The German entered the season’s final race 15 points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso and seven points behind his teammate Mark Webber.
A long shot to win the title, Vettel qualified on pole, pressuring his rivals. Early pit stops stuck Alonso behind rookie Vitaly Petrov in the Renault, with Webber behind the two-time champ. Overtaking is difficult at Yas Marina, so Alonso could not pass Petrov, securing a sixth place and needing fourth to claim his third title.
Greatest Moments: Mercedes’ Battle in 2016
In 2016, race fans got one of the most tense finales in sports history. All season, Mercedes’ teammates and childhood friends Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg battled for the championship. Mercedes dominated the whole season, winning all but two races during the season. Rosberg got off to a hot start, winning the season’s first four races. In the fifth race of the season, the two rivals tangled on the first lap and crashed out.
The tension continued all season in a back-and-forth affair that saw Hamilton win six of seven races in the middle of the season, followed by Rosberg winning four of five. Hamilton entered the season’s final race at Yas Marina, having won the previous three races, taking pole in each race, with Rosberg finishing second in each race. Thanks to an unlikely retirement in Malaysia before his winning streak, Hamilton entered the final race of the season 12 points adrift of Rosberg. Not only did he need to win, but he needed Rosberg to finish fourth to win the championship.
Hamilton led from the start, with Rosberg trailing him all race. In the race’s final laps and desperate for Rosberg to be overtaken, Hamilton deliberately slowed his pace, hoping he would slow Rosberg down and allow Vettel and Max Verstappen to overtake him. The plan ultimately failed, allowing Rosberg to win his first and only championship. By that point, Hamilton and Rosberg’s relationship had been irrevocably severed. It didn’t result in further problems, as Rosberg shocked the racing world by retiring the following month.
Greatest Moments: Verstappen Takes Down Hamilton in 2021
The most controversial moment in Abu Dhabi’s Formula One history happened in 2021. Hamilton and Max Verstappen entered the race with even points — the first time in history that the season’s final race started with the championship contenders tied on points.
Verstappen took pole, but Hamilton beat him off the line and led for most of the race. Red Bull kept Sergio Perz out on older tires to hold Hamilton up and allow Verstappen to close the gap, but Hamilton was too fast. Then, with five laps to go and Hamilton up 12 seconds on Verstappen, Nicholas Latifi crashed and brought out the safety car.
Racing Director Michael Masi controversially only let the lapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton pass through, allowing Verstappen to be directly behind Hamilton to start the final lap with brand-new tires. Hamilton had no chance, as Verstappen easily overtook him on the final lap to secure his first championship.
What To Expect In 2023
Verstappen has already clinched the title, but the final race of the season at Yas Marina should still be intriguing. While Verstappen will be the clear favorite, McLaren has found pace late in the season, along with Mercedes, making good bets for a strong result.
All eyes will also be on Perez, whose seat is secure for 2024 with Red Bull but has former Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo hot on his heels. Lance Stroll will be another driver to keep an eye on as Aston Martin evaluates his future with the team after a rocky season.
Verstappen is your best bet, but Lando Norris, Hamilton, and Oscar Piastri are also great betting options.