Max Verstrappen takes 19th win of the year in Abu Dhabi

Line up - photo by FIA

Max Verstappen took a comfortable 19th win of the season at the final round of the 2023 FIA Formula One World Championship, but it was behind this year’s champion that all the drama took place, as Mercedes beat Ferrari to P2 in the Constructors’ Championship. 

In the breathless final few laps, second-placed Charles Leclerc allowed Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez past in the hope that the Mexican would build a five-second gap to fourth placed Mercedes man George Russell thereby erasing the effects of a time penalty for Pérez and. That would have been enough to give Ferrari P2. 

But though Pérez crossed the line in second place, his gap to Russell wasn’t big enough and after the penalty was applied he slipped to fourth. Third for Russell, allied to ninth place for team-mate Lewis Hamilton, meant that Mercedes took the runner-up championship spot, just three points ahead of Ferrari. 

When the lights went out at the race start, Verstappen reacted well from pole to take the lead ahead of Leclerc and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, while behind them McLaren’s Lando Norris got the jump on Russell to steal fourth place. 

Further back, Pérez dropped a place from P9, as Alpine’s Pierre Gasly powered past, Hamilton shot forward from P11 and Haas’ Nico Hülkenberg slid down the order. However, in getting past the Mexican, Hamilton had gone off track in Turn 1 and two laps later he offered little resistance as Pérez eased past to retake ninth place. 

At the front, after resisting a strong opening-lap challenge from Leclerc, Max quickly broke DRS to the Ferrari and began to pull away, racing to a 1.5-second advantage at the start of lap 7. Norris then made his way past team-mate Piastri to steal third, while Russell too moved past the Australian to take P5. Behind them, Pérez was all over the back of Gasly’s Alpine and on lap 12, he closed up to the Frenchman through the chicane and stole seventh place on the run to Turn 9 under DRS. 

Piastri was the first of the frontrunners to make a pit stop, switching to hard tyres at the end of lap 13. He was followed in by Norris and Russell at the end of lap 14, but Norris’ stop was slow one and Russell got ahead as they exited the pit lane.

Verstappen made his first stop at the end of lap 16 and in a 2.9s halt he made the switch to Hard tyres and emerged in P7, behind the long-running, Hard-tyre shod Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. 

Ferrari responded by pitting Leclerc at the end of the next tour and he was followed in by Pérez. Leclerc rejoined three seconds behind Verstappen. 

Yuki Tsunoda now led a Grand Prix for the first time in his career. Verstappen quickly made his way past Hard-tyre starters Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll and when Tsunoda made his sole stop on lap 22, the champion returned to P1. 

Norris then sparked the second round of stops among the frontrunners as he tried to undercut Russell. Mercedes covered that move by pitting Russell on the next lap, with Ferrari also bringing Leclerc in to deny Mercedes any undercut. 

Pérez then made his second stop at the end of lap 42, taking on a set of Hard tyres for his final stint, while Verstappen made his final stop at the end of the following lap, re-emerging in the lead.

Pérez found himself tucked up behind Norris and on lap 47 he attacked into Turn 6. There was contact and as a result the Mexican was handed a five-second time penalty for causing the collision – a sanction that would have major implications elsewhere in the final stages of the race. 

Norris was still in Checo’s sights and on the next lap he muscled his way past the McLaren in Turn 6 to take P4, four seconds behind Russell. And on lap 54 the Mexican powered past the Mercedes driver to take P3. He now needed to build a five-second gap to the Briton in just four laps in order to hold on to the podium position. 

And with Ferrari battling Mercedes for P2 in the Constructors’ Championship, Leclerc calculated that if he let the Mexican past there would be a better chance that the Mexican would gap Russell. So, with a lap left Leclerc backed off allowing Pérez to sweep past. 

Pérez couldn’t forge the necessary gap, however, and though he crossed line in P2, when the five-second penalty was applied he slid back to fourth behind Russell. Leclerc’s gambit had been audacious but despite the Ferrari driver finishing second, Russell’s P3 allied to Lewis Hamilton’s P9 meant that Mercedes secured the Championship runners-up slot, three points ahead of Ferrari.

Behind Pérez, Norris finished fifth for McLaren, just ahead of team-mate Piastri, while Fernando Alonso finished seventh for Aston Martin. Tsunoda took eighth place AlphaTauri with Hamilton in P9 and the final point went to Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin.  By

2023 FIA Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Race 
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 58 1:27’02.624 
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 58 1:27’20.617 17.993
3 George Russell Mercedes 58 1:27’22.952 20.328
4 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing 58 1:27’24.077 21.453
5 Lando Norris McLaren 58 1:27’26.908 24.284
6 Oscar Piastri McLaren 58 1:27’34.111 31.487
7 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 58 1:27’42.136 39.512
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri  58 1:27’45.712 43.088
9 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 58 1:27’47.048 44.424
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 58 1:27’58.256 55.632
11 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri 58 1:27’58.853 56.229
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine 58 1:28’08.997 1’06.373
13 Pierre Gasly Alpine 58 1:28’12.984 1’10.360
14 Alexander Albon Williams 58 1:28’15.808 1’13.184
15 Nico Hülkenberg Haas 58 1:28’26.320 1’23.696
16 Logan Sargeant Williams 58 1:28’30.415 1’27.791
17 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 58 1:28’32.046 1’29.422
18 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 57 1:26’50.923 Power Unit
19 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 57 1:27’15.035 1 lap /12.411
20 Kevin Magnussen Haas 57 1:27’17.500 1 lap /14.876

Written by