Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2023

Verstappen caps dominant season with crushing win as penalty leaves Perez fourth

Formula 1

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Max Verstappen never looked under threat as he won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to end his season with a record 19 grand prix victories.

The world champion led home team mate Sergio Perez to win by almost 20 seconds, but a five-second time penalty dropped Perez behind Charles Leclerc and George Russell, who were promoted onto the podium.

Ahead of the start of the race, the vast majority of the grid headed off on the formation lap on medium tyres, with only a handful of drivers down the order choosing to start on hard tyres. Verstappen lined up on pole position with Leclerc alongside him on the front row for the final start of the 2023 season.

When the lights went out, Verstappen got a good launch off the line but Leclerc was alongside him into the first corner. Verstappen held the lead but Leclerc continued to challenge the Red Bull over the opening lap, attacking into turns six and nine but being rebuffed by Verstappen each time.

Verstappen led at the end of the first lap from Leclerc, Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris in fourth after jumping George Russell at the start. Verstappen broke out a lead of over a second by the time DRS was activated at the end of lap two but it was Norris who passed team mate Piastri with DRS along the back straight to move up into third.

The leader continued to hold his advantage at around 1.3 seconds as the drivers at the front of the field all appeared to be managing their tyres. Russell was eager to retake fourth place and successfully did so on lap 11, demoting Piastri down to fifth before quickly dropping the second McLaren out of DRS range.

Piastri was the first of the top drivers to pit at the end of lap 13 for hard tyres. Norris and Russell both followed him in at the end of the next lap, but the Mercedes team had the superior pit stop and Russell emerged ahead of the McLaren. Lewis Hamilton lost part of his front wing after making contract with Pierre Gasly in turn six, but despite immediately pitting Mercedes decided not to change his front wing.

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Verstappen pitted soon after from the lead for hard tyres, handing the lead to Leclerc. The Ferrari driver was in the next lap and emerged out of the pits behind Verstappen, just over three seconds behind.

Yuki Tsunoda inherited the lead of the race having stayed out on his medium tyres, while Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz Jnr ran behind him on the hard tyres they had started on. Verstappen picked off Sainz and Stroll with each to move second, before Tsunoda finally pitted at the end of lap 22 to hand the lead back to Verstappen, with Leclerc taking back second and Russell third ahead of the two McLarens of Norris and Piastri.

On the hard tyres, Verstappen began to slowly pull away from Leclerc behind. Further back, Sergio Perez passed Piastri to move up into fifth place. After complaining of struggling for grip on his hards, Norris was called in at the end of L33 for a second set of hard tyres.

Norris pitting triggered a chain reaction with Russell, Hamilton, Leclerc and Piastri all pitting for a second set of hard tyres with well over 20 laps still remaining. Leader Verstappen was happy to stay out on his hards, while Perez also remained out to move into second.

Perez was the first of the Red Bulls to make his second stop, emerging in fifth, before Verstappen pitted a lap later for a second set of hard tyres, retaining the lead by just over five seconds.

In short order Perez caught Norris for fourth and attempted a move into turn six at the end of the back straight, but the pair made wheel-to-wheel contact. The Red Bull driver overtook the McLaren the following lap at the same corner, but was handed a five-second time penalty by the stewards for the collision.

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Out front, Verstappen continued to pull away from the field behind as Perez moved up to third by overtaking Russell into turn nine. With Leclerc in second looking to try and take as many points off Mercedes as possible in the battle for second on the constructors’ championship, the Ferrari driver allowed Perez through into second place knowing the Red Bull driver would have a penalty in a bid to try and keep him ahead of Russell at the finish.

Verstappen took the chequered flag to cap off his dominant season with his 19th win, with Perez crossing the line in second place. However, Perez’s penalty dropped him behind both Leclerc and Russell, who were promoted into the podium positions, meaning that Mercedes were confirmed in second place in the championship over Ferrari.

Perez was classified forth ahead of the two McLarens of Norris and Piastri. Alonso finished seventh with Tsunoda in eighth, unable to prevent Williams from securing seventh in the constructors championship. Hamilton and Stroll took the final points in a race where all 20 drivers finished.

2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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52 comments on “Verstappen caps dominant season with crushing win as penalty leaves Perez fourth”

  1. BLS (@brightlampshade)
    26th November 2023, 14:47

    Could half his points tally and he’d still be WDC
    mind boggling.

    1. If it continues I truly hope the second driver situation improves. If the field closes in on max but max is still dominant Perez will suffer and to they may replace him mid season. But will probably only do so if his results are so bad that their 2nd in WCC is under threat. This would also likely require one team to be clear ahead the rest of the pack.

  2. A decent race with quite a few good battles.
    Some weird strategies, especially Ferrari with Sainz, & Alpine with Ocon.
    Leclerc’s tactics were weird without any impact on the final positions, as Checo would drop two positions anyway.
    A good drive by Tsunoda.

    1. Leclerc’s tactics were weird without any impact on the final positions, as Checo would drop two positions anyway.

      It would’ve worked, if Checo could pull 5 second gap to Russell – which he almost did. Besides, it was a risk free tactic for Leclerc. I don’t think it was weird, it was a no-brainer. In my opinion, the weird part is that it seems like Leclerc came up with that strategy, not Ferrari’s pit wall.

      1. the weird part is that it seems like Leclerc came up with that strategy, not Ferrari’s pit wall

        To be fair, that’s also not a weird part. :D

    2. @jerejj Leclerc thought everything through. He just wanted to give Perez a speed boost, although arguably he could have given him a tow plus DRS down the straight, rather than just DRS. But he couldn’t really back Russell up, because then they would cross the line just a few tenths apart, and he would need to judge that gap to Perez so that Leclerc maintained P2, but Russell would end P4. Probably a bit too difficult to judge and some risk involved in both driving in an unusual way and possibly losing his podium if Russell got past him.

      1. Probably a bit too difficult to judge and some risk involved in both driving in an unusual way and possibly losing his podium if Russell got past him.

        I only saw this after my post below.
        Certainly a bit risky, but in AD sector three has no real spots to overtake and typically the gap between cars is more than 0.5s.
        I would be a challenge for Leclerc to judge this, but with great financial rewards for the team.

        Maybe a podium for him is more important than some extra revenue for the boss.

    3. Leclerc’s tactics were weird

      The only weird part is that he forgot to do step 2 of that strategy; hold Russell up to beyond the 5s behind Perez.

      I wonder if people would have called that smart or unsportsmanlike.
      We saw something similar in 2016, which divided the opinions here.

      1. He needed to finish between Perez and Russell though, so he’d have to get the gap *just* right to finish within 5s of Perez with Russell outside. Would have been very difficult to pull off, and probably not worth trying. The plan was just to give Perez enough tow/DRS to help him pull the 5s gap on his own. But it wasn’t quite enough.

  3. I’ve never wanted a season to be over so quickly, what an absolute boring race and season 19 wins out of 23 for one driver and Verstappen fans moaned about Mercedes dominance, most dominant car in F1 history which was a weak penalty in a fast car and Verstappen is just Vettel 2.0! An average driver in a fast car. No competition from anyone or his teammates who are always weak and not allowed to challenge. Let’s hope we get rid of this kids DTS type racing and back to multiple teams fighting with a long fight and championship at the front and not a championship finished half way through a season. It’s worse than the Schumacher years.

    1. A quick lock at the driver ratings from the past several years would quickly show that VER is anything but an average driver. Of course it was displayed in the most emphatic manner in the season he won his first title, when he clearly was the best overall of the 20+ drivers in a very challenging set of circumstances.

      1. Put Verstappen in a slow car and he will achieve nothing, he has only ever been in the second best car his whole career. Still hasn’t proved himself in another top team and has weak team mates. Last time he had Ricciardo he was beaten twice.

        1. I don’t understand your point, as no one is winning the title in a Haas… And VER did start at Toro Rosso… As they say, the cream always rises to the top. LH has also driven only competitive cars throughout his career and he is still one of the best in history. And he has been driving well enough in the past two years also, despite of achieving nothing of note.

          1. I would argue that Max was able to pull out a few wins every season in an inferior car during the dominant Merc years. Hardly an average driver.
            I think fourfourseven is suffering from a severe case of sour grapes.

          2. He has never had an inferior car

          3. You are joking right?
            So you are saying the RedBull from 2014 to 2020 was not inferior to the Mercedes and the Ferrari for a couple of years? Really?

    2. I absolutely agree that this season has been terribly boring, absolutely disagree with you however on Verstappen being an average driver. Same car, same team, any team on the grid he would be that teams better driver. Who in terms of talent can match him? I’d say there are possibly 3 current drivers in his talent range.

      1. Verstappen under pressure makes mistakes and he is a dirty driver. Last week with Leclerc proved that

    3. Kind reminder that you’re not forced to watch it. Isn’t that great?

      Also, I’m quite certain the other drivers know they are not competing against an average driver when it comes to Verstappen. Hamilton would probably be one of the first to admit that.

      1. That’s because they’ve never had a dominant car. Beleive me when Verstappen starts losing which he will we will see how great he really is.

    4. Jonathan Parkin
      26th November 2023, 17:23

      Well he has done better than Vettel in one respect. At least he has won his races from a variety of grid spots. Vettel on the other hand only won one of his races in a Red Bull off the front row – he started 3rd in Singapore and only won because Hamilton retired

    5. In previous seasons, regardless of who won WDC, after the final race, I’ve found myself wondering how long before the next season starts, when will testing start etc. On this one I watched the last race with a sense of weariness and a feeling of “thank goodness it’s over”.

  4. So funny that DC makes out that Russell got Mercedes second, what a load of nonsense! Hamilton has been the only driver to get Mercedes those points on his own in the 4th best car on the grid with Russell going backwards and crashing out of lots of races. Great for Mercedes to get second and Hamilton 3rd in the championship.

    1. Russell got Mercedes second with what he did this weekend. If he’d done what Hamilton did, missed Q3 and trundled round to the back end of the points, Ferrari would have beaten them in the Constructors’.

      1. Not the way DC made out, like he alone had got Mercedes the championship this year, Russell got trashed by Hamilton this season.

        1. But but but they were close in qualifying and Lewis was out in Q3… So… Yes .. that means George is better!! He-ha!

      2. This also makes no sense you could say either driver got them 2nd in any race. Or you could start including Lewis getting a podium where he got disqualified where Russel could not. Or russul nearly cisting them second by crashing in Singapore.

        In the end the got 2nd as a team over the seasons course.

        1. You don’t get points for qualifying, races score points and Hamilton has contributed a lot this season getting that car where it had no place to be. He has trashed Russell this season even though Russell had a better car than last season.

      3. Donald Richards
        30th November 2023, 12:43

        The bogus 5 sec penalty given to Perez got Mercedes the constructors not Lord Russel or Sir Hamilton.

    2. First a rant at Verstappen, now one at Russell.
      I wonder if you pick off the whole grid (except one of course).

      But I’m glad for you the season is over. Must be hard to live a life and only focus on the negatives.

      1. The only negatives are the FIA and Liberty who are losing viewers, its Schumachers 5 snoring years all over again.

        1. Must be hard to live a life only focussing on the negatives and constantly convincing yourself you are right.

    3. Yes indeed, and all that from average Lewis.

  5. Well that’s a surprise!

  6. Watching this race I feel like there maybe was something in what people were saying about sacrificing 2nd place in the constructors for more wind tunnel time. Sainz’s strategy was absolutely inexplicable, and when Ferrari were telling him they are waiting for SC, I feel the appearance of one would not have made any difference. On top of that, the PER- RUS plan came from LEC, rather than from the box. I am missing something?

  7. Oh boy, the comments, I almost want to point out how ridiculous some are… Anyway, well played to Max, F1 saw something special this year, something we could all predict was coming as soon as he got the car for it.
    Let’s hope the period of dominance isn’t as long as Hamilton’s.
    Still possible to see a couple more years of continued record breaking before the next big rules shakeup.

    1. Indeed I wouldn’t be surprised if the playing field is locked-in for 24’ & 25’. With yet another huge rule shake-up in 26’ and such a huge advantage by Red Bull (Honda) with the current rules – I doubt teams will make the extra effort or even will be able to get close to Red Bull.

    2. The only thing we saw were the back of our eyelids snoring

  8. Well, regardless of what your favourite team and driver are, hats off to Redbull and Verstappen. Near flawless performance by both of them. Was this the most dominant season ever by a team and/or driver?

    Other highlights of the season: Alonso and Aston Martin in the first half, McLaren and their two boys in the second half, Albon in the Williams, Lawson in the Alpha Tauri, and Hamilton in the Mercedes taking 3rd, despite his struggles with this year’s car.

    1. Driver – yes, undoubtedly.

      Team – probably not. Mercedes, especially in the first few seasons of the turbo-hybrid era, had a bigger average margin over the rest of the field than Red Bull did this year – and there is the suggestion that they were holding back even more performance to prevent FIA intervention from pegging them back. Even as late as 2019 they kicked off the season with five successive 1-2 finishes, which is better than Red Bull managed at any point.

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        27th November 2023, 5:31

        @red-Andy isn’t it interesting that all Red Bull drivers who drove with Max have trouble getting on the podium? They could do that with lesser cars.

  9. If Perez were a half decent driver he would have qualified top 4 and finished p2 with no contact or collision on the way. RB are mad to hang on to him when a maestro like Alonso can be persuaded to finish his career on an entertaining high.

    1. finished p2 with no contact or collision

      The penalty was a bit harsh IMO.
      Yes he took a weird line, but all to make Norris’ line even worse.
      When they hit there was still room on track to the right of Norris.
      I even thought they would investigate Norris for ‘causing a collision’, but penalising him would also be unfair.

  10. The 2022-era regulations are a big miss. The cars still can’t race properly. Every single DRS pass is tragic to watch. The tyres are still bad. The engines are frozen (in motorsport, sigh) and even equalized under some stealthy BoP-scheme that has no place in F1.

    Drivers are so numbed out by over a decade of DRS that many of them can’t fight for positions without running their competitors off – or even bumping into them. The enforcement of the rules is still no better than it was with Whiting.

    And perhaps most embarrassing, the only noteworthy thing a bunch of teams did this year was protest the addition of a new team because of their greed for the commercial rights money that they, in their non-competitive ‘participation’, contribute virtually nothing to.

    The combination of freezing engines, limiting development, BoP aero-testing, homologating chassis, and forcing subpar tyres on everyone is not a good one. Especially in what are shaping up to be the longest seasons ever.

    Oh well, there’s still rallycross. It’s often silly, but at least it’s not pretending it’s something it’s not.

    1. It’s only been 2 years and already people have forgotten how the cars needed to maintain >2s gap, most times up to 4s, just to keep from destroying their tires. We have closer racing now and DRS is less effective. Freezing engines and limiting development under a budget cap is a good thing. Unrestricted budget and development is not sustainable unless you want to see only 4 teams on the grid.

      Of course, people will always complain regardless of the regulations.

    2. Suggestion: please watch rally cross, and try to contribute positive to rally cross fans websites. No need to tell time and again on a website for F1 fans that you don’t like their sport.

  11. What a season from Max Verstappen, just utter perfection. The Perez penalty was so unnecessary and ruined the battle for P2 completely.

  12. The worst season I’ve watched. Zero jeopardy for Verstappen after race 5, both championships assured. Some OK races, Sainz’s win being a standout, but the end of the season seemed interminable. I started watching Formula 2 for some actual competition – following Formula 1 this season (and last) I’d forgotten what it’s like.

    1. Yeah, I’m pretty annoyed at Merc and Ferrari getting it so badly wrong too. Aston Martin and McLaren have shown what can be done which makes it even more embarrassing for them.
      Let’s not forget that Ferrari were favourites on pace for the French GP in ’22 which was past the halfway point so it’s not like RBR had a baked in advantage from the start of these regs.

  13. For all those commentators that seem to be dwelling on the things they don’t like about F1: please go watch your favorite sport and contribute positively to fan websites for that sport. Many of us here like F1 for many, many years already, have grown with the sport, understand the reasons for most of the changes made, and accept that F1 as a very expensive sport is (and always was) a mix of sport and show/entertainment. No need to tell us over and over again what you think is wrong with FIA, with Pirelli, with teams and their driver choices. If you want to discuss your opinion and compare with others opinion, and maybe learn from it, that’s OK. But posting the same statements in every topic gets boring, much more then any F1 race ever was or will be.

  14. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    27th November 2023, 5:55

    I don’t believe that Gasly, Albon, and Perez are such terrible drivers that they can barely podium with a Red Bull but can win races with Toro Rosso and Racing point.

    They have proven that they are pretty good and are still in F1 which shows that they are not terrible drivers.

    Checo was on the podium 9 times this season while Max won 20 races. They apparently drive the same car. Oh and Red Bull is not unhappy with Checo’s performance.

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