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ABU DHABI GP – Max Verstappen rounds off a record breaking season with a dominant nineteenth win beating Charles Leclerc by seventeen seconds

Testing & Race Reports

Max Verstappen has rounded out his incredible season taking his nineteenth win of the season beating Charles Leclerc by seventeen seconds to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Dutchman rounded out his season beating teammate Sergio Perez, but the Mexican dropped to fourth following a penalty for a collision with Lando Norris.

Verstappen finished the season with another dominant victory converting pole and then opening the gap over Leclerc on the opening lap from then on he had fended off Verstappen’s teammate Perez. As has so often been the case throughout the season, Verstappen calmly managed his tyres to remain outside of DRS range, before easing into the distance as the race developed.

However, despite the best efforts of Leclerc to help the Red Bull George Russell remained within five seconds allowing Mercedes to beat Ferrari by three points to second in the constructors.

The Dutchman finished the season with five-hundred and seventy-five points after sealing his third title in Qatar, with six Grands Prix remaining and Red Bull winning all but one Grand Prix. While his teammate Perez had a steady race coming from ninth as he delivered carving his way through to be near the front during the first stop, then re-join fifth at the second stop gaining three places in the final stint.

The target next year, four in a row matching Sebastian Vettel between 2010 and 2013 as well as Lewis Hamilton between 2017 and 2020. But how to better eighty-six percent of wins a record likely never to be beaten, if F1 gets its wish for ever closer racing.

His fifty-fourth win moves him into third one ahead of Vettel, and fifty behind Hamilton who holds the outright record, while Michael Schumacher is second with ninety-one.

Having overcome some practice struggles to take pole in Saturday’s qualifying session, the chance of Verstappen not converting from pole appeared minimal as the lights went out at the Yas Marina Circuit for the final time in 2023. His race performance was just another example of how he has managed to win nineteen races this season, getting out of DRS range early on.

He was so comfortable in front at one point came onto team radio to offer up priority at the second round of pit stops to Perez, who was attempting to come through the field from ninth on the grid.

Leclerc took second for Ferrari, but it was not enough to overturn a four-point deficit to Mercedes, for whom Russell took third and teammate Hamilton ninth. Perez finished a second off what he needed to negate the penalty following the collision as they fought for position with ten laps to go.

Verstappen said, “It’s been an incredible season, it was a bit emotional on the in lap, it was the last time sitting in the car which has of course given me a lot. Very proud to win here in the last race and 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.”

Leclerc who finished second, after Perez gets a five-second penalty: “It was all in the last few minutes [Letting Perez overtake him] because Perez had a five second penalty, we had to help him in a way for him to finish in front of George with the five seconds so I tried to give him DRS and a slipstream but that unfortunately wasn’t enough.”

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. But the decide move came at Turn Nine on the opening lap when Verstappen swopped around the outside sealing his win, pulling away for the remainder of the race.

The consolation for Leclerc was that he vaulted past his main rivals Norris and his team-mate Carlos Sainz to take fifth in the championship behind Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

The McLaren driver finished fifth about a minute behind as the team finished the season on a high both cars in the points and Norris beating his teammate Oscar Piastri by seven seconds. The team the most improved this season scoring the second most points behind Red Bull, since introducing a revised car mid season.

Aston Martin who had been at one point the closest rivals to Red Bull couldn’t beat the McLarens and ended the year fifth in the constructors, Fernando Alonso finishing eight seconds behind Piastri in seventh. The team not showing the brilliant performances they had at the start of the season.

However, the way the race played out and McLaren not having the pace to achieve the target of a podium, with both Norris and Piastri dropping to fifth and retaining sixth, as they struggled for pace allowed them to retain fourth.

Yuki Tsunoda was eighth finishing just over a second ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who ended the season winless for only the second time in his career, his last win being Jeddah 2021.

Tsunoda allowing his Alpha Tauri team to move ahead of Williams in the constructors. The Japanese driver was powerless to hold off Alonso as his tyres wore off in the closing laps, but he just hung on despite Hamilton’s best efforts to try and seal eighth in the closing stages of the race.

Lance Stroll rounded out the top ten finishing half a second ahead of Daniel Ricciardo to take the final point of the season, one where the Canadian has struggled to match teammate Alonso.

Esteban Ocon was just under three seconds ahead of his Alpine teammate Pierre Gasly, with the Williams of Alex Albon fourteenth.  Nico Hulkenberg was ahead of Logan Sargeant and Guanyu Zhou the final finishers in the race. Sainz’s torrid fortnight saw the second Ferrari retire with one lap to go, along with Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen.

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