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Verstappen beats Leclerc to victory in Abu Dhabi

Verstappen beats Leclerc to victory in Abu Dhabi

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.

POSITION
TIME

POINTS

1

Max
Verstappen
VER
Red Bull Racing

1:27:02.624

26

2

Charles
Leclerc
LEC
Ferrari

+17.993s

18

3

George
Russell
RUS
Mercedes

+20.328s

15

4

Sergio
Perez
PER
Red Bull Racing

+21.453s

12

5

Lando
Norris
NOR
McLaren

+24.284s

10

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.

Verstappen held the lead at the race start

AS IT HAPPENED
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.

There was plenty of overtaking and action as the 2023 season drew to a close in Abu Dhabi

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.

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2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Verstappen fends off Leclerc on the race start at Yas Marina

“The right front is slowly getting a bit hurt,” was the message from race leader Verstappen to the Red Bull pit wall on Lap 12, with the top three drivers ploughing on up front but several more cars trickling into the pits for fresh tyres – Piastri narrowly fending off Alonso’s undercut attempt.

Lap 15 saw Norris and Russell pit together, with an agonisingly slow stop from the McLaren crew allowing the Mercedes to slip through, as the pair rejoined just ahead of the squabbling Piastri and Alonso in their temporary midfield spots.

Elsewhere, Hamilton was caught out by a lock-up from Gasly at the Turn 6/7 chicane and nudged the rear of the Alpine with his Mercedes, but despite apparent damage, the Silver Arrows opted against a front wing change when the seven-time champion pitted a lap later.

Lap 17 was the moment for Verstappen and Red Bull as they decided to pit from P1, releasing Leclerc into the lead of the race, with the Monegasque coming in one tour later to defend from the undercut and their positions remaining unchanged.

The flurry of stops gave Tsunoda a welcome run in the lead of an F1 race during Franz Tost’s final appearance as AlphaTauri team boss, while Stroll, Sainz and Bottas also stretched out their opening stints and added some strategic intrigue to the 58-lap encounter.

Tsunoda led the way for several laps as the various tyre strategies played out

Hamilton’s clash with Gasly was investigated by the stewards but news soon arrived that there would be no further action, and the Frenchman had another reason to feel aggrieved when team mate Ocon – who had started behind him – moved ahead with the undercut.

Tsunoda pitted from the lead on Lap 23 to release Verstappen, Leclerc, Russell and Norris, who had all worked their way past the yet-to-stop Sainz, with Piastri holding sixth from Alonso, Perez, Ricciardo and Hamilton, who was spurred on with a motivational message from boss Toto Wolff.

By Lap 25, with the 12th-placed Bottas the only driver yet to pit for a change of tyres, Verstappen’s lead over Leclerc was up to five seconds, with Russell just over a second further back, followed by the McLarens of Norris and Piastri and the recovering Perez, who had overtaken Alonso.

Gasly expressed frustration once more as he questioned over the radio why his Alpine was so slow compared to the opening laps, and his engineer duly confirmed that some damage had been picked up in the contact with Hamilton but urged him to push on nonetheless.

As the race neared its halfway mark, Perez made up another place by slipping past Piastri for fifth, while Hamilton had moved up to eighth from AlphaTauri pair Tsunoda and Ricciardo, who swapped positions on their differing tyre strategies to maximise the team’s points potential.

Verstappen edged away from Leclerc as the final race of the season developed

On Lap 33, Gasly kicked off the second round of pit stops, this time changing tyres before team mate Ocon, with Norris coming on the next tour and attention then turning to what Verstappen, Leclerc and the rest of the front-running group would do.

Mercedes responded by calling Russell in a lap later, with the Briton taking to the radio to ask: “Are you sure we can’t make the one-stop work? The tyres feel reasonable.” He ultimately pitted and came back out just ahead of Norris, being told as he exited the pits that his out lap would be “critical”.

Russell’s stop in turn forced Ferrari into action, with Leclerc following the trend of taking on more hard tyres and rejoining in front of Russell and Norris, while leader Verstappen told Red Bull he was happy for them to pit team mate Perez before him if needed.

With the second stops rolling in, there was more drama for Hamilton when he came close to hitting Alonso as the pair approached Turn 5, claiming he was brake-tested by the Aston Martin ahead of DRS coming into play – the stewards noting the incident for erratic driving but opting against any further action.

At this point, Russell asked the Mercedes pit wall how the championship situation was looking, with Ferrari putting themselves in position to leapfrog the Silver Arrows for second in the constructors’ standings as the race entered its final 20 laps.

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2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Verstappen and Leclerc in thrilling battle for the lead on Lap 1

Lap 43 saw Perez pit again from second position, putting on more hard tyres and coming back out in sixth position, with team mate Verstappen doing the same from the lead one tour later, meaning Red Bull’s final planned pit stops of the year were done and dusted.

“The downshifts are pulling a lot,” Verstappen reported over the radio shortly after making his second stop, asking if anything could be done to improve the situation, while Perez lit up the timesheets to pass Tsunoda and close in on Norris’ McLaren.

Hamilton and Gasly’s races took another turn in the closing stages when the stewards noted a potential pit lane infringement and then confirmed that they would be investigating it further after the race.

Perez had arrived at the rear of Norris’ car on Lap 48 and attempted a move into the Turn 6/7 chicane, only for the pair to bang wheels. “He crashed into me,” was Norris’ view after taking to the run-off and maintaining the position, while Perez argued that “he turned into me”.

A lap later, Perez repeated the attempt and this time made it stick, but Norris reiterated his frustration over the radio and the stewards began another investigation – which ultimately landed the Mexican a five-second penalty.

Perez delivered an overtaking-filled race after his midfield start

With that situation unfolding, Leclerc radioed the Ferrari pit wall asking what he could do to help in their close fight with Mercedes for second in the constructors’, deciding to drop behind Perez and see if he could build a five-second gap back to Russell.

But it would not work out that way, with Perez following race-winning team mate Verstappen across the line only to be jumped by Leclerc and Russell when his penalty was applied, confirming Mercedes in P2 over Ferrari.

McLaren pair Norris and Piastri were fifth and sixth, as Alonso, Tsunoda, Hamilton and Stroll completed the points – the AlphaTauri driver’s tally not enough to see the team jump ahead of Williams for P7 in the standings.

Ricciardo was 11th, from Ocon, Gasly, Albon, Hulkenberg and Sargeant, with Zhou, Sainz, Bottas and Magnussen bringing up the rear in the final outing before a hard-earned winter break for the drivers and their teams.

It was another win and another trophy for Verstappen in Abu Dhabi

Key quote
“An incredible season,” said race-winner Verstappen. “It was a bit emotional on the in lap, the last time I was sitting in the car that has, of course, given me a lot. I’m very proud to win here also at the last race. I have to say a big thank you to Red Bull, it’s just been an incredible year. It will be hard to do something similar again, but we definitely enjoyed this year.”

What’s next
As an action-packed season comes to an end, teams and drivers will now head into the winter break before gearing up for the 2024 campaign, which kicks off with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29 to March 2.

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