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F1 Abu Dhabi GP: Verstappen wins 2023 finale as Mercedes secures second

Max Verstappen won Formula 1’s Abu Dhabi season finale ahead of Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, as Mercedes held off the Scuderia’s attempt to secure second in the 2023 constructors’ championship.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

This was despite a series of late-race passes and a penalty for Sergio Perez meaning Leclerc actually gifted him second on the road on the last lap in a failed attempt to extend the Mexican driver’s gap to George Russell behind.

Several drivers, including Verstappen, also face a post-race stewards’ investigation regarding possible pitstop infringements related to eyewear worn by their mechanics.

At the start, Leclerc made a better getaway than polesitter Verstappen and was fully alongside the outside of the Red Bull at the first corner, but the world champion swept around the Ferrari to maintain the lead.

The same thing played out at Turn 5, at the end of the Yas Marina track’s long back straight, then a third time when Leclerc surged in Verstappen’s wake but was obliged to move to the outside of the Turn 9 hairpin at the end of the second long acceleration zone – the circuits’ curved run from the Turns 6/7 chicane.

Verstappen then dropped Leclerc by enough to move out of DRS threat, which left the Ferrari under more pressure from the swarming McLaren pair behind.

Initially Oscar Piastri headed Lando Norris – the Briton having jumped his compatriot Russell through the race’s opening corners – before Norris moved ahead on lap four of 58.

A long DRS train ran back from the leaders through the early laps, before gaps began to appear as Leclerc pegged Verstappen’s lead around the 1.5s-mark and Piastri fell back from Norris.

As the lap count moved into double figures, Norris could not match the pace at the front in the mid-1m30s, with Leclerc still just over a second behind Verstappen as they nursed the medium tyres they had all started on through the opening stint in what was a thermal degradation, tyre management affair.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19 battles with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19 battles with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Although Verstappen complained his front tyres were “getting hurt a bit”, it was Leclerc who fell back as the pitstops approached – kicked off for the frontrunners when Piastri, Norris and Russell stopped on laps 13 and 14.

Verstappen came in at the end of lap 16 with a 2.0s lead to switch to hards, which was nearly doubled thanks to the undercut’s power when Leclerc rejoined on the same compound one tour later.

Ferrari initially had to be more concerned about Russell’s threat on warmed hards after he had jumped Norris in the pits thanks to a slow left-rear change on the McLaren. It followed Russell moving ahead of Piastri shortly before the stops.

But Leclerc was soon pulling clear and the leaders made their way through the cars that had yet to stop after starting on the hards – including Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, who offered no defence when Verstappen came up behind him with DRS down the back straight.

By lap 23 Verstappen was back at the front after AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda had been the last medium-starter to pit and led for a chunk, with Verstappen’s lead at this stage over Leclerc now up to 4.5s.

This reached 6.4s by the start of lap 30, with Russell still keeping Leclerc honest under two-seconds behind in third. Verstappen alone was able to regularly lap in the low 1m29s, now on the more durable compound of the two main race tyres.

At the front as night rolled in over Yas Island, little happened beyond Verstappen extending his lead over eight seconds before Norris stopping at the end of lap 33 for more hards.

Russell and then Leclerc stopped over the subsequent two laps to avoid being undercut, while Red Bull left Verstappen out along with Perez.

He had carved his way up from starting ninth to running just behind Norris before the McLaren came in for a second time, with Perez eventually coming in at the end of lap 42 and rejoining a net fifth and three seconds behind Norris.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, in the pits

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, in the pits

Verstappen, who had instructed Red Bull to consider pitting his team-mate first, duly came in one lap later – his lead now the two-stop strategy had played out down to 5.5s but the world champion instead gaining a bit tyre-life offset to Leclerc.

He brought this to bear immediately in his third stint – pulling away with a fastest lap in the high 1m26s and then a string of times in the 1m27s that Leclerc could not match.

Verstappen’s final winning margin was 17.9s and in controlling this event as he did, he registered over 1,000 laps led in 2023.

Perez was the main focus of the final stint as he battled by Norris – but in controversial circumstances. They had collided at Turn 6 on lap 47 in what was a bizarre low-speed clash well away from the apex where each driver blamed the other.

The next time by at the same spot, Perez got Norris to move up to fourth, but the Mexican was soon handed a five-second time addition for causing the clash in the eyes’ of the stewards.

But an intriguing off-track controversy was also brewing by this stage, as first Lewis Hamilton then Pierre Gasly in the pack behind were announced as being under investigation for an infringement at their final stops.

An FIA spokesperson announced this related to mechanics possibly not wearing required eye protection during the services, with Verstappen, Alex Albon, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu also facing similar investigations post-race.

As the closing stages commenced, Perez closed up to Russell’s rear and passed him with a DRS-assisted dive to Turn 9’s inside on lap 54.

Perez then shot after Leclerc but, with Russell able to stay just close enough behind, Leclerc’s late call to try and boost a driver he knew would fall back once the chequered flag fell by pulling over ahead of the Turn 5 chicane and then chasing Perez home did not come off.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

In the end, Russell being boosted back to third by Perez’s penalty meant Mercedes ended three points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ standings, with the latter’s tactic of leaving Sainz out on effective one-stopper hoping for a late safety car backfiring when this did not appear.

After a last-gasp stop for softs, Sainz was retired in the pits in a race where all the other cars went the full distance bar the lapped Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen right at the back.

Behind the podium battle, Norris and Piastri finished fifth and sixth, with the former unable to stay close enough to Perez once he had passed by cleanly to be a factor in Perez’s fall back to fourth post-chequered flag.

Fernando Alonso took seventh ahead of the one-stopping Tsunoda, who put in a brave stab at getting AlphaTauri ahead of Williams in the battle for seventh place in the constructors’, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Hamilton actually passed Tsunoda at Turn 9 on the last lap, but slid wide having just slipped ahead through the long left-hander to allow Tsunoda back through to eighth.

Lance Stroll claimed the final point for Aston Martin. His team-mate Alonso was briefly assessed by the stewards for a possible brake test incident in front of Hamilton, when the Spaniard rejoined after his second stop, but this was deemed not to require any further action.

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Results

 
 
         
Driver Info
 
 
 
   
Cla Driver # Laps Time Interval km/h Pits Points Retirement Chassis Engine
1 Netherlands M. Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1 58

-

    2 26   Red Bull Red Bull
2 Monaco C. Leclerc Ferrari 16 58

+17.993

17.993

17.993   2 18   Ferrari Ferrari
3 United Kingdom G. Russell Mercedes 63 58

+20.328

20.328

2.335   2 15   Mercedes Mercedes
4 Mexico S. Perez Red Bull Racing 11 58

+21.453

21.453

1.125   2 12   Red Bull Red Bull
5 United Kingdom L. Norris McLaren 4 58

+24.284

24.284

2.831   2 10   McLaren Mercedes
6 Australia O. Piastri McLaren 81 58

+31.487

31.487

7.203   2 8   McLaren Mercedes
7 Spain F. Alonso Aston Martin Racing 14 58

+39.512

39.512

8.025   2 6   Aston Martin Mercedes
8 Japan Y. Tsunoda AlphaTauri 22 58

+43.088

43.088

3.576   1 4   AlphaTauri Red Bull
9 United Kingdom L. Hamilton Mercedes 44 58

+44.424

44.424

1.336   2 2   Mercedes Mercedes
10 Canada L. Stroll Aston Martin Racing 18 58

+55.632

55.632

11.208   2 1   Aston Martin Mercedes
11 Australia D. Ricciardo AlphaTauri 3 58

+56.229

56.229

0.597   2     AlphaTauri Red Bull
12 France E. Ocon Alpine 31 58

+1'06.373

1'06.373

10.144   1     Alpine Renault
13 France P. Gasly Alpine 10 58

+1'10.360

1'10.360

3.987   2     Alpine Renault
14 Thailand A. Albon Williams 23 58

+1'13.184

1'13.184

2.824   2     Williams Mercedes
15 Germany N. Hulkenberg Haas F1 Team 27 58

+1'23.696

1'23.696

10.512   2     Haas Ferrari
16 United States L. Sargeant Williams 2 58

+1'27.791

1'27.791

4.095   2     Williams Mercedes
17 China Z. Guanyu Alfa Romeo 24 58

+1'29.422

1'29.422

1.631   2     Alfa Romeo Ferrari
dnf Spain C. Sainz Ferrari 55 57

 

    3   Retirement Ferrari Ferrari
19 Finland V. Bottas Alfa Romeo 77 57

1 lap

    1     Alfa Romeo Ferrari
20 Denmark K. Magnussen Haas F1 Team 20 57

1 lap

    2     Haas Ferrari

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