Verstappen wins Abu Dhabi GP 2023 to end record-breaking year
Max Verstappen confidently converted pole position into victory during Sunday evening’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, making it 19 wins across 22 races in what has been a remarkable year for the Dutchman and his Red Bull team.
Verstappen defended from Charles Leclerc on the run to the first corner and across the first lap before cementing his lead and gradually pulling clear, taking the chequered flag comfortably ahead of the chasing pack as the sun set on the 2023 campaign.
Sergio Perez crossed the line in second position for Red Bull, but a five-second time penalty for a clash with McLaren’s Lando Norris demoted him to fourth when the results were confirmed, leaving Leclerc second and the Mercedes of George Russell third.
Leclerc had been second on the road until the closing laps when he elected to let Perez pass him and try to generate enough of a gap between the Red Bull and Russell to boost Ferrari’s chances of beating Mercedes to second in the constructors’ standings, but it was not to be.
Norris had to settle for fifth after his run-in with Perez, the position he started thanks to his costly qualifying mistake, with team mate Oscar Piastri taking sixth from the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
Lewis Hamilton and Lance Stroll made it double points finishes for their respective Mercedes and Aston Martin teams, with Daniel Ricciardo missing out by half a second in team boss Franz Tost’s final race overseeing the AlphaTauri squad.
Alpine pair Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly went unrewarded in the final race of the season, the latter having been involved in a brush of bodywork with Hamilton midway through proceedings, followed by the lead Williams of Alex Albon.
Nico Hulkenberg could not convert his Q3 appearance into points for Haas, dropping all the way down to 15th position in another challenging race, with Williams rookie Logan Sargeant and the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu coming home 16th and 17th respectively.
Carlos Sainz had been running in the points in the closing stages, but his alternative strategy required a late pit stop and left him a lowly 18th, as Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen completed the order for Alfa Romeo and Haas.
After struggling through practice, Verstappen and Red Bull bounced back in qualifying to secure pole position for one final time in 2023, with Leclerc joining the reigning world champion on the front row, followed by Piastri, Russell, Norris and the high-flying Tsunoda.
A couple of drivers out of their usual positions were Hamilton, who could only manage 11th in qualifying as he lamented what was wrong with his car, while Sainz would be starting all the way down in 16th as he struggled for form in the wake of a heavy crash in FP2.
When the cars assembled on the grid and the tyre blankets came off, it was revealed that the majority of drivers would be starting on the medium compound, with Stroll, Sainz and Bottas the three drivers to try something different by taking the hard rubber.
As the lights went out, Leclerc got away well to briefly look up the inside of Verstappen on the run to Turn 1, but the pole-sitter braked slightly later to swoop across the track and hold position, as Piastri maintained third and Norris muscled his way past Russell at the second corner.
Leclerc latched onto Verstappen’s car exiting Turn 5 and had another sniff at the lead into the Turn 6/7 chicane, with the Ferrari and Red Bull going side-by-side under braking, only for the Dutchman to retain the lead once more and set about putting some distance between the two cars.
Keen to make up for his qualifying mistake, Norris soon cleared team mate Piastri for third on the run between Turn 5 and 6, with Russell still fifth from Tsunoda, Alonso, Gasly, Perez and Hamilton – the Mercedes having passed the Red Bull at the start but dropped back behind amid questions that the move had taken place off track.
On Lap 6, Magnussen was the first to pit for new tyres, swapping his mediums for hards well before the anticipated window, with replays revealing a massive lock-up at Turn 16 had prompted the stop. A couple of laps later, Ricciardo was in due to dramas of his own when a tear-off got stuck in one of his brake ducts.
In early incidents not picked up on the television coverage, the stewards noted Sargeant and Magnussen and Zhou and Albon, both in relation to forcing another driver off the track, but the panel ultimately decided that no further action was required.
Back at the front, Verstappen continued to lead Leclerc by just over a second, with Norris a similar margin further back, while Piastri had his mirrors full of Russell and was having to position his McLaren carefully to keep the Mercedes man at bay.
After several laps of jostling for position, Russell finally made a move stick on the run to Turn 9 and crucially moved into clear air, with Piastri quickly coming under pressure from the ever-impressive Tsunoda and Perez later clearing Gasly for seventh.