Photo Credit: CTV News
The 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix summed up the entire Formula 1 season in just 58 laps of racing; one driver dominating the grid, with the other 19 drivers left to slug it out for the remaining positions.
Entering nearly every weekend, and nearly every session knowing exactly who will win the race, but never knowing who will follow in the tightly-congested pack behind.
The only difference this time around, was that there was more at stake. For one thing, second-place in the World Constructors’ Championship was up for grabs, with Mercedes leading Ferrari by just four points entering the final weekend of the season.
On the other hand, Max Verstappen, somehow, had even more to chase after. And all that he chased, he conquered.
Starting from pole position for the 11th time this season, Verstappen fended off the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc through the entirety of the opening lap, and stretched his advantage to 17.9 seconds come the end of the race to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Not only was this the fourth win in a row at the Yas Marina Circuit for the Dutchman, it was also his 54th career win, putting him in sole possession of third all-time on F1’s win list.
In addition, Verstappen became the first driver in F1 history to lead over 1 000 laps in a single season with 1 003, and also set the record, in stone, for the highest single-season win-percentage at an astounding 86%. And that’s not to mention him also extending his record of the most wins in a single season with his 19th, and the most podiums in a single season, among many other records.
For the now three-time World Champion, it was the biggest exclamation point he could’ve put on the competition to end off perhaps the most dominant individual seasons in all of sports history.
Finishing second was Leclerc for Ferrari. Knowing at the end of the race that the Scuderia needed three points to overhaul the Silver Arrows, Leclerc even let the penalized Sergio Perez past him for P2 on the final lap, to allow the Mexican to get clean air and DRS, and pull a gap of over five seconds on George Russell to put a car between them.
Perez pitted late for a fresh set of hard tires, and charged up the order, eventually receiving a five second penalty for running Lando Norris off the track at turn 6. Luckily for Russell and Mercedes, Perez finished an agonizing 3.9 seconds ahead in P2, which promoted them back to third place, and saved their championship position by just two points.
While Mercedes held the advantage and appeared to have more pace than their Italian rivals entering Sunday’s Grand Prix, it did, at one point, look like the red team would jump them. Russell qualified two places behind Leclerc, and fell to fifth behind the two McLaren’s on the first lap.
But, Russell then passed them both, and while he couldn’t quite match the Leclerc’s surprise Ferrari pace, he did enough to secure his team a boatload of extra cash after what was, self-admittedly, a tough season for the sophomore Mercedes driver.
Finishing behind Perez in fifth and sixth were Norris and Oscar Piastri for McLaren. The papaya duo ran third and fourth in the opening laps, but unlike most of the second part of the season, they just just couldn’t quite match Mercedes, Ferrari, and obviously Red Bull. Still, they increased their gap to Aston Martin in the Constructors Championship and finished the season fourth overall – a solid turn around from having arguably the slowest car to start 2023.
Seventh was Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, who had a solid drive to wrap up a stunning fourth place in the Drivers’ Table. After somewhat looking like Red Bull’s lone challenger to start the season, it would be easy to be disappointed with how he and the green team ended. However, given where the pair of them were last year, albeit in different circumstances, it was an incredible season.
Yuki Tsunoda capped off an excellent third season with an eighth place finish for AlphaTauri, poetically doing so with a Franz Tost-inspired helmet design for his team principal’s final race at the helm. Tost had been leading the team since its inception as Toro Rosso nearly two decades ago, and leaves a legacy of overperforming with an under-funded team, and shepherding some of the brightest talents in the sport today, no less than Max Verstappen.
Ninth was Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes, who had a nightmare weekend with a second-straight Q2 elimination, a damaged front wing in the race after contact with Pierre Gasly, a dust up with Alonso, and a general lack of pace. Despite this, the seven-time champion still clinched third place in the Drivers’ Standings.
Rounding out the points-scorers was Lance Stroll in tenth, who after a dismal run of form in the middle of the season, ended the year the way he started it; matching his world champion teammate and scoring valuable, mistake-free results.
And with that, the 2023 Formula 1 season has come and gone. While it won’t go down as an all-time classic year of racing, there were still plenty of good races, cool moments, and many great storylines to follow. Given how close the grid was all season from second-place on down, 2024 will be must-watch content if they can, even just slightly, close the gap to Red Bull and Verstappen.