2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Blog
Five continents, twenty countries, twenty-three races and one thousand laps led by the same man. And that, as they say, is that. F1 is nicely wrapped up and put away in time for the festive season.
Abu Dhabi was once again, where Formula 1 headed for it’s last race of the season, and Yas Island always puts on a great show. It looks especially inviting from the freezing temperatures of an English living room. But I always get the sense that you have to be there to appreciate it more than other events on the calendar. The race itself, 2021 aside, tends to be a bit flat.
For 58 laps, no one really challenged for the race lead, there were no real jaw-dropping moments, no safety car deployed. If it wasn’t for Carlos Sainz’s incredibly late retirement, all twenty cars would have finished the final Grand Prix.
Still, it was lights out and away they went for the last time this year, and Abu Dhabi was still the decider for how much money or wind tunnel time some teams would get next year. Here are the five main talking points from the pretty mediocre Finale.
Once in a Lifetime
Words have been thrown around the Paddock this year. Dominant. Unbeatable. Out of this world. Supreme. Invincible. Not human. Faultless. Sublime.
Whichever adjective you use to describe Max Verstappen, one thing is for sure. We are unlikely to ever see anything like this season again in our lifetime in F1. And I mean that. This will be the greatest season we have ever witnessed from a single driver. No other car or human has come even nearly close.
Finishing with an appropriate win in Abu Dhabi, Max proved over and over again this season that a car is not solely responsible for winning races and world championships. Yes, he had the best car underneath him on the grid. But, Sergio Perez, with both a mixture of poor decisions and bad luck thrown at him this year, was living proof that you have to be an out of this world racing driver to achieve what Max Verstappen has done in the same car.
No one – not Michael Schumacher, not Lewis Hamilton, not Ablerto Ascari with his 75% race win record when there were only eight races in a season – were seen, in their hay day, to come to the track and dominate like Max did every. single. race.
And the funny thing is, the three races that Max did not win – Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Singapore – will probably haunt him forever, the perfectionist he is. He didn’t even put a foot wrong in those races. Was just out driven or, in the case of Singapore, had an atypically uncompetitive car in the Red Bull.
Most consecutive race wins, most podium finishes, highest ever points total, biggest winning margin, most wins in a single campaign, highest percentage of race wins in a single season. They are some of the few records that the 26-year old achieved this year. It is scary to think how many more that will end up being, when the oldest driver on the grid is currently 42.
It’s not like he just turns up and has this supreme god given talent though (although there is a lot of that). When other drivers spend time with family and friends in between races, Max goes straight back to the factory to work on the simulator. Even after a race win of over twenty seconds, the Dutchman will always explain in interviews that something that was a bit off or needs improving for the next race. He turns up to each race and aims for perfection. No win is a given for him.
Hindsight will be a beautiful thing in a few years but I think we can all agree that we won’t see another season like 2023 and those who watched it from start to finish witnessed a huge piece of F1 history in the making with Max Verstappen. Whilst I am sure he will double, if not triple, his current win total throughout his career, historically, teams start to catch up with the leader around this point in the regulatory cycle and with this in mind, next year should be a bit closer in both championships. Meaning less records broken. Maybe…
Twenty-three pole positions. Five race wins. That’s a win rate from pole of 23% for Charles Leclerc.
Of course, there has been a few occasions where Leclerc himself has thrown away that lead – the 2022 French Grand Prix is ringing a bell – but this season, the Ferrari has just simply been a less competitive car on race day than the Red Bull and is much more affected by tyre degradation. Something we do not see in qualifying.
Abu Dhabi was another one of those occasions. Qualified on pole, put in another good challenge into turn one off the start, and almost got Max further into lap one. But, after that it was smooth sailing for Verstappen and he finished 18 seconds ahead of Leclerc.
Charles Leclerc drove a very impressive race though. He was even strategising on behalf of Ferrari at the end. He managed to tally up the points needed for his team to finish second to Mercedes in the championship, once Sergio Perez’s five-second penalty was applied, and suggested letting Checo overtake him in order to beat George Russell. Whilst it was a noble thing to do, it came to no avail when Russell managed to stay within five seconds of both drivers, but Toto Wolff praised Leclerc as “sportsmanlike” for allowing the Mexican driver through without backing up the grid – something we have seen other drivers do to secure championships in previous seasons.
Russell to the Rescue
On the whole, Lewis Hamilton, who only had one DNF this season and one DSQ through no fault of his own, carried the team more this year. But George Russell, who has had his self-proclaimed worst season ever in F1, undeniably came to the rescue at Abu Dhabi. Without him this weekend, Ferrari would have been getting that extra prize money.
Lewis hung onto a couple of points in a very unconvincing P9, but George took the final podium spot despite battling a virus the past couple of weeks, and those fifteen points made all the difference to the Constructors Championship. He was relieved to had made amends for a “dreadful season” on his part by helping the team to that extra financial benefit and sounded hopeful for the forward direction the team could only go in next year.
His teammate, on the contrary, conducted a very dejected interview post-race, explaining that he was surprised to have “survived” the season at all. Usually full of optimism and praise for the Mercedes team back at home, Hamilton sounded really hopeless for the next few months, with Red Bull finishing the final race of the season seventeen seconds ahead of anyone else.
More harsh penalties
He just can’t have an easy race can he. Segio Perez simply adores making his life harder than it needs to be. He can’t qualify well, but then transforms into a demon during the race. He clearly loves overtaking and wants to have a more interesting race than his teammate up front. Whatever it is, it has become almost a guarantee. Perez will start low down, but then fight with all his might to prove himself worthy of that second Red Bull seat and finish quite well.
Abu Dhabi was no different. The Mexican driver started ninth on the grid and the raw pace of the Red Bull was soon evident as he began picking off drivers ahead of him one by one. When he got to Lando Norris though, for fourth place, Sergio Perez was seen to turn in and awarded a 5-second penalty. It looked like a racing incident and the penalty was rather harsh with just ten laps to go.
Perez clearly thought so, and his views on the stewards’ decision, whereby he branded the FIA a joke, cost him further investigation and he was summoned by the FIA after the race. Iconic.
He was rather hard done by though. Had it not been for that penalty he would have gone on to stand on the podium with his teammate for the last time this year. A podium, I might add, that a representative of Red Bull’s racing team has stood on every single race except one this year, and not ONE of those has been a woman. Do better Red Bull. Do better.
The Battle of the Brits
What a turnaround this year was for McLaren. And what an awful end for Aston Martin. This year held so much promise for Lawrence Stroll’s team, with the first three races podium finishes. Then fortunes flipped for the two British teams, when half way through the year, McLaren decided to enter the ring.
Nine races in, the MCL60 was completely unrecognisable from the car we witnessed come last and DNF at the opening race in Bahrain. Before July, McLaren had just 11 measly points to their name. Aston Martin had 154. By Abu Dhabi, McLaren had overtaken, clinching fourth place in the championship.
What could have possibly gone so wrong in five months?
Two things to note here. One, McLaren is proof just how much a car can improve over a season. Two, Oscar Piastri will win world championships. Let me explain.
McLaren unleashed, essentially, a new car, with the upgrades brought to Austria in July. A fully revised floor, sidepod, engine cover, halo and even mirrors all designed at improving its aerodynamic efficiency, were introduced across the three Grand Prixs in July and, with it, points galore for the Papaya team. They were now right at the front of the midfielders.
Secondly, Fernando Alonso essentially contributed to Aston Martin’s success by himself, with little offered from teammate and son of the owner, Lance Stroll. On his own, he scored more points than both McLaren drivers, and ended the year equal with Charles Leclerc for fourth in the Driver Championship. He very rarely was challenged by his own teammate.
Meanwhile in McLaren, rookie Piastri was right there with Lando Norris the whole time, and on some occasions even outperformed him. Eleven point-scoring finishes, two podiums and a sprint race win, the Australian had an incredible first season in F1. The upgraded car provided the catalyst and both Norris and Piastri worked seriously well together to do the rest. Double the driver potential, double the points potential. It was as simple as that. An outstanding second half of the season and definitely a pairing to watch next year.
Well that’s it for now. The travelling circus will no doubt be gasping for air after twenty-three races, but give it two weeks, no one will know what to do with themselves.
Action begins up again with pre-season testing on 21st February in Bahrain, with the race there the following weekend. A couple of welcomed changes have been made to the calendar, including Qatar later in the year and Japan earlier. This should make for a better flow and more regionalisation.
Whilst, it was definitely a one-horse race this season, don’t be fooled into thinking that made for boring racing. We have witnessed history be made over and over again and we will look back at 2023 as the year Max Verstappen set unbreakable records.
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