Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Max Verstappen Completes Dream Season With Dominant Win in Abu Dhabi GP

Polesitter Max Verstappen won the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to complete the most dominant season in F1 history. It was Verstappen’s 19th win of the year and seventh consecutive.

Verstappen crossed the line over 17 seconds ahead of Charles Leclerc, with George Russell less than three seconds back. Sergio Perez was fourth (he finished second on the track but a five-second penalty dropped him to fourth). McLaren’s Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri were fifth and sixth, respectively, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in seventh. Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda parlayed a one-stop race to an eighth-place finish, with Lewis Hamilton taking ninth, followed by Lance Stroll in 10th. 

“It was an incredible season,” Verstappen said. “It was a bit emotional on the in-lap – it was the last time I was sitting in the car, which has given me a lot.

“I have to say a big thank you to everyone at Red Bull. It’s been an incredible year. It will be hard to do something similar again, but we definitely enjoyed this year.”

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Max Verstappen Ends 2023 F1 Season With Win in Abu Dhabi

In the driver standings, Verstappen scored the maximum 26 points to finish the season with 575 points, dwarfing Perez’s second-place total of 285. Hamilton finished third with 234 points.

In the constructor standings, Red Bull closes the season with 860 points. Mercedes edged Ferrari in a tight battle for second, with 409 points to Ferrari’s 406.

The Race

Verstappen held off Leclerc’s strong bid in the short chute leading into turn one and then had to battle to keep the lead as Leclerc took a look at turn seven and then at turns eight and nine. Norris slipped by Russell for third, and McLaren ran 3-4. 

Verstappen finally put some distance to Leclerc, keeping the Ferrari out of DRS range. But Leclerc kept the gap close while also dealing with Piastri’s charge behind him. Norris then passed Piastri to begin his own chase of the Ferrari.

Piastri held off Russell’s attempt for fourth on lap seven as there were several battles for position up and down the order. Russell and his Mercedes teammate Hamilton were looking to maintain Mercedes’ four-point lead over Ferrari for second in the constructors standings.

At lap 10, Verstappen’s lead over Leclerc was about 1.5 seconds, and it seemed the Dutchman was wisely managing his medium tires while keeping Leclerc a safe distance behind.

Russell was still stuck behind Piastri, and with Hamilton languishing in 10th, it was imperative for Mercedes’ hopes that Russell make the pass. He did so on lap 11 into turn nine, and Russell began his search for Norris, over two seconds ahead.

Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz, who had a big crash in Free Practice 2 on Friday (November 25th) and failed to advance to Q2 on Saturday (November 26th), was running 11th on lap 14 after starting 16th.

Piastri was the first of the frontrunners to pit, coming in for hard tires on lap 13.

Hamilton made contact with Pierre Gasly’s Alpine on lap 14, damaging the Mercedes’ front wing. Hamilton pitted a lap later, with the team choosing not to replace the damaged wing.

Verstappen pitted for hard tires on lap seven and returned in seventh. Leclerc responded a lap later and re-entered in fifth, behind Verstappen in fourth once other cars pitted. Sainz, on his original hard tires, was in front of Verstappen. Verstappen quickly overtook Sainz, leaving Ferrari with the decision of whether or not to convince Sainz to let Leclerc through.

On lap 18, Yuki Tsunoda was the leader, becoming just the second Japanese driver to lead an F1 race.

Mercedes team radio told Hamilton that he was the second-quickest car on the track on lap 25, even with a damaged front wing. It was an encouraging sign for Mercedes, who would need Hamilton to challenge the Ferraris if Mercedes was to hold on to second in the constructors. It appeared the outcome would depend on the results of Sainz and Hamilton. 

Verstappen’s lead over Leclerc was over five seconds on lap 25 and the Red Bull driver looked poised for another lopsided win, leaving all the drama in the race, once again, well behind him.  

Perez had found a bit of momentum and was running sixth on lap 26, chasing the two McLarens ahead of him. Hamilton was flourishing on hard tires, and was up to eight by lap 28. Perez took fifth over Piastri on the same lap, as Perez eyed the possibility of joining his teammate on the podium.

Norris pitted for hard tires on lap 34, and Mercedes immediately responded, pitting Russell. Russell came out just ahead of Norris.

On lap 38, the Red Bull of Verstappen and Perez ran 1-2. Verstappen radioed his team and told them that if they needed to pit Perez before him, they could. 

On lap 40, the Mercedes-Ferrari battle had flip-flopped, with Ferrari now, if current positions held, in line to overtake Mercedes for second in the constructors. Hamilton, in a battle with Alonso, accused the Aston Martin driver of “brake testing” him, which replays appeared to confirm. Stewards investigated Alonso for “erratic driving.”

Alonso overtook Sainz for eighth, leaving Sainz and Hamilton ninth and 10th. Sainz still had a stop to make, but Hamilton was now under investigation for pit stop infringement, which stewards said would be decided after the race.

Perez made an attempt on Norris on lap 48, and the two made contact, with both drivers accusing the other of “turning in” to the other. Norris left the track and maintained the position, but stewards decided to investigate Perez.

Perez eventually overtook Norris a lap later, with his next target being Russell, over four seconds ahead. But stewards then issued Perez a five-second penalty for causing a collision, a judgment that all but ended Perez’s podium hopes. 

Mercedes had the advantage in their battle with Ferrari, as Sainz, running 10th, still had to pit, and when he did, would fall well out of the points. But Ferrari continued to put the stop off, with their only hope being a safety car. 

Perez smoked Russell for third on lap 55, and now had three laps to build a five-second lead over Russell to cover Perez’s five-second penalty. Russell needed to remain within five seconds of Perez to finish third and keep Mercedes ahead in the constructors. All the drama left in the race would most likely be determined with a clock.

Sainz finally pitted on lap 57 and dropped out of the points-paying spots.

Verstappen crossed the line 16 seconds ahead of Perez, with Leclerc third on the track but second in the books. Russell came through fourth, and moved up to third. Hamilton finished ninth and Mercedes held on to second in the constructors standing by three points over Ferrari.  

The Good

Despite Verstappen removing all drama related to who would win the race, there was plenty of drama otherwise. Leclerc made a few good runs for the lead in the opening laps. Hamilton had to manage a damaged front wing for practically the entire race, which possibly made him faster? Or at least that’s what hype man Toto Wolff was telling him.

There were battles that resulted in contact: Hamilton and Gasly, Perez and Norris. And the back-and-forth Mercedes-Ferrari duel for runner-up in the constructors standings was fascinating, and came down to the final lap. And watching Leclerc give up second place to Perez was very intriguing because I assumed it would end with Ferrari screwing up somehow and Leclerc missing the podium altogether. 

The Bad

Who’s this punk security guard trying to stop Martin Brundle’s “Grid Walk?” Impeding Martin means you could be depriving viewers of interesting interviews with drivers, F1 legends, and/or celebrities, or painfully awkward interactions with losers like Machine Gun Kelly or giants like Shaquille O’Neal. And it’s not like Brundle is out there thinking he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. He’s pretty humble. But if you, punk security guard, push Martin to his limit, he might just break out the question, “Don’t you know who I am?” Which, as a punk security guard, I guess your answer would be, “No, I don’t.”

Does F1 require its stewards to have a season-long quota on the number of “pit stop infringement” penalties that are issued? And if so, did stewards meet that quota in one single race? And what exactly is a “pit stop infringement” penalty? Who is doing the infringing? The driver? The pit crew? The car?    

The Disappointing

It’s disappointing that the Abu Dhabi GP was a microcosm of the 2023 F1 season —a lot of great action up and down the order, but not a bit of a challenge to Verstappen save for the opening laps. Early in this race, there was no doubt Verstappen would win. Early in the season, or maybe before it even started, you knew Verstappen would be world champion. 

What’s disappointing are the other nine teams in F1, and especially Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren, none of which could ever mount a serious, sustained challenge to Red Bull. 

Red Bull seems to build their advantage in the offseason, just as much as they do in the actual race season. So I’m offering an early New Year’s Resolution to the other teams on the grid: Get your “S” together. “S” can mean whatever you want it to: “speed,” “science,” “something that will make you competitive.” Verstappen described his race as “lonely” after he took the win. Please, other nine F1 teams, give the poor man some company in 2024.  

The Driver

Verstappen won for the 19th time this season, became the first driver to lead 1,000 laps in a season, and also completed every lap in every race in 2023. So Max is not only “The Driver,” he is also “The Man,” “The Man To Beat,” and “The Legend.” 

The Results (Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT581:27:02.62426
216Charles LeclercFERRARI58+17.993s18
363George RussellMERCEDES58+20.328s15
411Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT58+21.453s12
54Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES58+24.284s10
681Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES58+31.487s8
714Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES58+39.512s6
822Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT58+43.088s4
944Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES58+44.424s2
1018Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES58+55.632s1
113Daniel RicciardoALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT58+56.229s0
1231Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT58+66.373s0
1310Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT58+70.360s0
1423Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES58+73.184s0
1527Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI58+83.696s0
162Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES58+87.791s0
1724Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI58+89.422s0
1855Carlos SainzFERRARI57DNF0
1977Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI57+1 lap0
2020Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI57+1 lap0

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I didn’t even watch this race after the first two laps. Same old ****. Seems like this is how F1’s going to be forever…every time new regs come out, whoever hits it right off the bat will dominate the next seven or whatever years unchallenged. First you had Red Bull, then Mercedes, now Red Bull again.

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