Max Verstappen capped off a dominant season in style when he eased to victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, his 19th win of the Formula 1 season.
Although Verstappen and Red Bull wrapped up both championships long ago, there was still plenty left to be decided heading into the season finale.
In the Constructors’ Championship, minor improvements in the standings would amount to millions of dollars in terms of prize money while bragging rights were still left to be claimed in the Drivers’ order.
With the curtain now drawn on 2023, how did the field fair in the 22nd and final outing of the campaign?
As has been the case throughout the season, Verstappen was once again indomitable in Abu Dhabi. Despite limited practice running, the Dutchman quickly acclimatised to the Yas Marina circuit to take pole with a one-tenth advantage over a rapid Charles Leclerc.
It may have been a straightforward race for the three-time champion, but a 19th victory of the year by no means an achievement to be sniffed at.
Sergio Perez – 7
Qualified: P9, Race: P4
Sergio Perez’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix showed flashes of promise as he fought his way back through the field from ninth on the grid. But yet again, his performance in the race revealed a weekend that should have yielded more.
The Mexican has been let down by his qualifying performances consistently in 2023, this time lamenting “confusing” track limits rules for his failure to set a representative lap time on Saturday.
He may have carved his way through the pack effectively at points but, ultimately, doing so cost the Red Bull driver valuable time allowing Verstappen to run away unrivalled.
Perez crossed the line second on track but had picked up an arguably harsh five-second time penalty when he collided with Lando Norris, dropping him to fourth. Abu Dhabi was by no means a disaster for Perez, but inexcusable qualifying mistakes must be ironed out ahead of 2024.
Charles Leclerc – 9.5
Qualified: P2, Race: P2
Despite a turbulent season for the Scuderia, Leclerc has rounded out the season in impressive form and Abu Dhabi was no different.
Leclerc contended for pole and drew alongside Verstappen on multiple occasions on the opening lap. Unfortunately for the Ferrari driver, he was powerless to keep pace with the RB19.
Leclerc demonstrated his brilliance as he deliberately allowed Perez past on the final lap in the hopes that the Red Bull would hold a five-second advantage over Russell at the line to cement second in the Constructors’ for Ferrari.
It wasn’t to be for Leclerc whose cause would have undoubtedly benefitted with the support of the sister scarlet car, yet his boldness, intelligence and sportsmanship deserve considerable recognition as he claimed a deserving P2.
Carlos Sainz – 4.5
Qualified: P16, Race: DNF (Classified P18)
Carlos Sainz has endured a double header to forget as for the second weekend in succession, sizeable damage in practice threw the Spaniard’s weekend into disarray before it ever really got going.
Sainz crashed out early in the only representative practice session of the weekend, leaving him on the backfoot heading into qualifying. The disadvantage was evident when he was eliminated in Q1, presenting a mammoth task to regroup and fight tooth and nail against the Mercedes on Sunday.
Sainz was one of three to start the race on the Hard compound and he made slow work forwards. Ferrari gambled on a late safety car, which never came, and boxed for a second set of Hards.
A late switch to one of the mandatory compounds dropped Sainz out of the points before he pulled into the pits to retire on the final lap, topping a miserable day.
George Russell – 9.5
Qualified: P4, Race: P3
Abu Dhabi was one of George Russell’s finest weekends of the season as the Mercedes driver returned to the rostrum for just the second time this campaign.
After biding his time, Russell came out on top in an enthralling battle with Piastri and jumped the second McLaren of Norris in the first pit cycle with thanks to a mistake from the papaya pit crew.
The Briton kept in touch with Leclerc and Perez when it mattered to be promoted to the podium after the application of the Red Bull driver’s time penalty. The Mercedes protégé had the better of his storied team-mate this weekend, and his efforts were enough to seal second in the standings for the marque.
Lewis Hamilton – 6.5
Qualified: P11, Race: P9
Hamilton was unimpressed by his performance over the course of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend and understandably so as team-mate Russell led the frontline for the Silver Arrows.
Hamilton was resigned to a Q2 elimination and will be scratching his head going into the winter break as a ninth-place finish means he ends the campaign with three consecutive absences from the top five.
The seven-time champion sustained damage when he bumped the rear-end of Pierre Gasly’s Alpine. A downbeat Hamilton had little to say after the race, but insisted that his side must do better come 2024.
Lando Norris – 7.5
Qualified: P5, Race: P5
Lando Norris felt he would have been on pole had it not been for a costly slide in sector three during his final qualifying attempt.
Instead, he would start Sunday’s race from P5. Norris jumped Russell on the opening lap and had the upper-hand over Piastri in the early stage and was allowed past by his team-mate.
The McLaren lacked the overall performance to hang onto Leclerc’s coattails and an uncharacteristic pitstop error ceded position back to Russell.
Norris was arguably partly to blame for avoidable contact with Sergio Perez, turning in on the lunging Red Bull. But when the McLaren struggled on its tyres in the latter stages, Norris was always to fall backwards.
Yet, fifth on Sunday is an important result for the manufacturer which clinches fourth in the Constructors’ over Aston Martin in a miraculous turnaround.
Oscar Piastri – 7
Qualified: P3, Race: P6
It may have taken the rookie until Q3 to hook up a solid lap of the Yas Marina Circuit, but when he did, he secured a heroic P3.
Raw pace hasn’t been something that the Australian has lacked in his maiden F1 campaign, yet there is still room for improvement come Sunday.
Having defended positions firmly in the first stanza, Piastri ended up struggling with his first two sets of rubber. By his third stint, the rookie had finally begun to come into his own to claim P6 at the flag.
It may have been one of his rare off weekends, but the 22-year-old showed great maturity to convert the low points into a learning opportunity.
Fernando Alonso – 8
Qualified: P7, Race: P7
A wiley Alonso secured fourth in the Drivers’ standings ahead the likes of Leclerc, Norris, Sainz and Russell with his seventh-placed finish at the Yas Marina.
While his and team-mate Lance Stroll’s combined efforts weren’t enough to clinch the same position in the teams’ order, the two-time champion called upon all of his experience and racing intellect to fend off the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.
Having dealt with underperforming machinery for much of the backend of the season, there’s no surprise to see the Spaniard place 2023 alongside 2012 as one of his best campaigns to date.
Lance Stroll – 6.5
Qualified: P13, Race: P10
Lance Stroll ended the year with a third consecutive points finish on his way to a career-best 10th in the World Drivers’ Championship.
Fitted with the Hard compound for the race start, Stroll was another driver who had gambled in hopes of a safety car to quickly ditch the white-walled Pirellis.
That safety car never came, meaning the Canadian was forced onto a two-stop strategy which he used to his advantage as he fought his to the final point.
Yuki Tsunoda – 8.5
Qualified: P6, Race: P8
Yuki Tsunoda did exceptionally well to hang onto the leading pack in an upgraded AT04 and with a gamble on the one-stop, the Japanese driver ended up leading his first five laps in Formula 1.
Tyre wear meant that the AlphaTauri driver faded towards the end of the race and wasn’t quite able to deliver enough points to overhaul Williams’ advantage in the Constructors’.
Regardless, Tsunoda leaves Abu Dhabi with ‘no regrets’ and pride after delivering a stellar performance as team boss Franz Tost now heads for retirement.
Daniel Ricciardo – 7
Qualified: P15, Race: P11
Daniel Ricciardo’s race was compromised early on when a tear-off found its way into his brake duct.
In an effort to get ahead of any resultant problem, Ricciardo boxed early which left his strategy compromised and the Australian out of sync with the field.
Ricciardo still showed decent pace on Sunday but struggled in dirty air on his recovery to 11th. Points were certainly on the cards had it not been for misfortune.
Esteban Ocon – 6.5
Qualified: P12, Race: P12
Esteban Ocon was the beneficiary of the superior undercut which helped the Frenchman jump team-mate Pierre Gasly on-track.
Ocon pursued the one-stop which meant he would struggle for pace towards the end and couldn’t challenge for points. By all means, 12th was not at all a bad effort from Ocon who had been battling illness all weekend.
Pierre Gasly – 7
Qualified: P10, Race: P13
Pierre Gasly was understandably taken aback by Alpine’s call to box Ocon first on Sunday. Gasly had been the stronger of the two Alpine’s in Abu Dhabi, and favouring Ocon on strategy was a clear slap in the face.
However, Gasly had taken a knock from Hamilton early on in the Grand Prix which meant damage to the rear end and a decrease in overall performance, sentencing him to a P13 finish.
Alex Albon – 7
Qualified: P14, Race: P14
Albon outqualified Sargeant once again to take a clean sweep in the Williams team-mate battle.
Starting P14, the Anglo-Thai driver had a poor getaway off the line and sank down the order before reclaiming his starting position through his second and third stints.
The Yas Marina was always going to prove a challenge for Williams, and ultimately the team lacked the performance to really compete for the points.
Logan Sargeant – 6
Qualified: P20, Race: P16
Logan Sargeant failed to set a time in qualifying after the American had each of his attempts discounted for track limits violations.
Sargeant did well to improve on his starting position, bringing the FW45 home in P16, roundabouts where the machinery belonged this weekend.
We still await confirmation of Sargeant’s whereabouts for next season as Williams considers its options going forward.
Nico Hulkenberg – 6.5
Qualified: P8, Race: P15
Nico Hulkenberg delivered another stellar qualifying performance in the VF-23 to claim a ninth top-ten start of the season.
While the German has carried the Haas to lofty heights on Saturday consistently, it was another unfortunate race for the American outfit as he immediately fell down the order on the opening lap.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix encapsulated Haas’ season-long woes: A general lack of pace worsened by poor tyre management and degradation kept the points well out of reach.
Kevin Magnussen – 5
Qualified: P17, Race: P20
It’s been no secret that Kevin Magnussen has struggled with the VF-23 throughout the campaign. Once again, he was outshone by Hulkenberg’s one-lap pace before an early lock-up resulted in a flat spot.
The mistake put Haas further on the backfoot with an early stop leaving Magnussen out of sync with his competitors.
Magnussen said that the “only positive today is that it was the last race”. Haas will need to work overtime throughout the winter, and during next season’s development race, if it hopes to make a mark in the series.
Guanyu Zhou – 6
Qualified: P19, Race: P17
Alfa Romeo just didn’t have the pace to end the Italian marque’s involvement in F1 on a high.
Of those to clock a valid lap time, Zhou was the slowest of all in qualifying and some 0.35s off of his team-mate.
While he battled Albon in the race, the Alfa Romeo lacked the performance to keep in touch with the Williams once it passed leaving points out of the question.
Valtteri Bottas – 5.5
Qualified: P18, Race: P19
The Finn ended the year on a low with P19 in Abu Dhabi. Bottas had effectively been hung out to dry in the already slow Alfa Romeo on the slower one-stop strategy.
The gamble didn’t pay off and he was unable to make the progress needed to make an impact on the race.