Three-time world champion Max Verstappen signs off his successful championship with victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He finished ahead of Charles Leclerc and George Russell.
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 before a third time Leclerc was able to move within Verstappen but had to move to the outside of the Turn 9 hairpin at the end of the second long acceleration zone.
Verstappen then dropped Leclerc by enough to move out of DRS threat, which left the Ferrari under more pressure from the battling McLaren pair behind.
Initially, Oscar Piastri headed Lando Norris – the McLaren driver having jumped George 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 1.5 second-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-one minute, 30 seconds, 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.
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 2.0 seconds 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 having got 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, 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 4.5 seconds.
This reached 6.4 seconds by the start of lap 30, with Russell still keeping Leclerc honest under two seconds behind in third, with Verstappen alone able to regularly lap in the low one minute, 29 seconds 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.
Verstappen, who had instructed Red Bull to consider pitting his teammate first, duly came in one lap later – his lead now the two-stop strategy had played out down to 5.5 seconds 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 one minute, 26 seconds and then a string of times in the one minute, 27 seconds that Leclerc could not match.
Verstappen’s final winning margin was 17.9 seconds and in controlling this event as he did, he achieved over 1,000 laps led in 2023.
Perez was the main focus of the final stint as he battled Norris – but in controversial circumstances, as they collided at Turn 6 on lap 47 in what was a 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 Checo 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, 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 decision 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 ended up being a complicated tactic that did not come off.
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.
So not the most thrilling race at Yas Marina and yet in terms of victories, Max Verstappen ended his championship-winning season by coming first. Charles Leclerc finished in second while George Russell took third and that was enough for the Mercedes team to take the runners up place in the constructors’ standings.
Hopefully next year, we will have closer competition as Red Bull and Max Verstappen dominated with so much success.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:27:02.624
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +17.993s
3 George Russell Mercedes +20.328s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull +21.453s
5 Lando Norris McLaren +24.284s
6 Oscar Piastri McLaren +31.487s
7 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +39.512s
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +43.088s
9 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +44.424s
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +55.632s
11 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri +56.229s
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine +66.373s
13 Pierre Gasly Alpine +70.360s
14 Alexander Albon Williams +73.184s
15 Nico Hulkenberg Haas +83.696s
16 Logan Sargeant Williams +87.791s
17 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +89.422s
18 Carlos Sainz Ferrari DNF
19 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +1 lap
20 Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 lap