Max Verstappen caps second F1 championship with 15th victory of season

Max Verstappen 15th victory
Heuler Andrey/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Max Verstappen scored a record-extending 15th victory of the 2022 season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday to conclude one of the most dominant seasons in Formula One history.

A year on from Verstappen’s tense and controversial win over Lewis Hamilton to seal his first title, there was little drama at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Verstappen, who set the F1 wins record three weeks ago in Mexico, stayed ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez at the start and was never seriously challenged after that on his way to the win.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc held off Perez’s challenge on old tires to finish second and clinch second place in the championship standings, thwarting Red Bull’s bid to have its drivers place first and second.

A hydraulic problem ended Lewis Hamilton’s race for Mercedes as the seven-time champion finished an F1 season without a win for the first time in his career.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel placed 10th for Aston Martin as he retires from F1 after 16 years.

Ahead of his final race in Formula One, Sebastian Vettel lined up for the national anthem wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Earth, a nod to his environmental activism. Then eight jets flew overhead trailing colorful smoke.

It was a moment that highlighted the delicate balance the four-time F1 champion treads as a lifelong auto racing fan increasingly uneasy at the toll his passion takes on the planet.

“It’s a huge privilege being in the position that we are in and with that comes some responsibility. So I hope to pass on a little bit to the other drivers to carry on some of the good work. It’s great to see that we have the power to inspire you with what we do and what we say,” Vettel said after the race.

“I think there’s far bigger and far more important things than racing in circles, but obviously it’s what we love. And through that, if we can transfer some of the really important values, then that’s big.”

A champion four years running with Red Bull from 2010 through 2013, Vettel has more recently used his high profile in F1 to support human rights and highlight environmental causes such as bee die-offs and the mining of oil from tar sands in Canada, even as his Aston Martin team is sponsored by Saudi oil giant Aramco.

While he voiced unease at “burning resources” in F1, the German remained a super-fan who bought former champion Nigel Mansell’s 1992 Williams car and drove it on carbon-neutral fuel for a demonstration at this year’s British Grand Prix.

On track Sunday in a helmet bearing the message “The Final Lap,” Vettel had a frustrating race after 16 years in F1.

“We’re just getting eaten up by everybody. Who’s next to pass us? Sitting duck,” he complained over the radio when Aston Martin left him on old tires. Later: “How did we get the strategy so wrong?” After starting ninth he gradually slipped back but recovered to take the last point of his career in 10th.

Despite being hampered by the strategy, Vettel still managed to battle with rookie Zhou Guanyu and fellow veteran Daniel Ricciardo in a combative end to a journey that began with his father giving him a go-kart when he was 3 years old.

Vettel is keen to spend more time with his family instead of being away for weeks at a time when the F1 calendar expands to 24 races next year.

After spinning his car in “donuts” to cheers from the crowd, Vettel said he felt “empty” at the realization his career was finally ending. “So many flags, so many smiling faces which has been very, very special, very nice,” he said. “I’m sure I’m going to miss more than I understand right now.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”