Formula 1

Late Leclerc games fail in Ferrari's Mercedes fight, Verstappen wins

by Ben Anderson
5 min read

World champion Max Verstappen cruised to victory in the final race of the 2023 Formula 1 season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, leading Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari home as Mercedes clung on to beat Ferrari to second in the constructors' championship.

Verstappen had to work hard to keep the lead on the first lap, defending superbly from Leclerc by hanging on around the outside through Turns 1, 6 and 9 as the Ferrari got a good start then used the slipstream to repeatedly attack the Red Bull.

But Leclerc was just not quite brave enough on the brakes on the inside line to make a pass stick.

That was as close as anyone got to usurping Verstappen, who eased away from the Ferrari before closing out a comfortable 17.9-second victory.

Strong race pace from George Russell’s Mercedes made this a largely defensive race for Leclerc and the McLaren of Lando Norris.

Norris managed to overtake Russell around the outside through the opening sequence of corners after the start, but was jumped at the first round of pitstops after a slow left-rear tyre change and spent the rest of his race vainly chasing Russell around.

Once the pitstops shook out, Leclerc led Russell and Norris with Sergio Perez’s Red Bull coming at them over the closing laps after running a much longer middle stint and making a late second stop for fresh hard tyres.

Perez stormed through from ninth on the grid to finish second on the road - with some help from Leclerc - but was penalised for driving into Norris, thus denying Red Bull a 1-2 finish.

Perez dispatched the McLaren with 10 laps to go, but received a five-second penalty for wheel banging with Norris through Turn 6 the lap before he made the move cleanly.

The Red Bull lapped significantly faster than Leclerc and Russell, overtaking the Mercedes and then being allowed past by Leclerc in a tactical bid to help Ferrari’s chances of beating Mercedes in the constructors’ championship by trying to slot Perez in between him and Russell in the order when the penalty was applied.

Perez finished second on the road, but ended up fourth in the final classification after the penalty was applied - Russell doing more than enough to ensure he was within the five seconds needed to beat the Red Bull.

“Why are we given the penalty? I was ahead!” complained Perez, who looked to have failed to give the McLaren enough room at the apex. So, what should have been an impressive recovery drive from ninth on the grid to the podium ended in more disappointment.

Leclerc’s fears for Ferrari’s excessive tyre degradation didn’t manifest and he drove a very assured race to second, finishing just over two seconds ahead of Russell - but third combined with an ninth placed finish for Lewis Hamilton meant Mercedes held on to beat Ferrari to second in the standings.

McLaren secured fourth in the standings by rounding out the top six, Norris just over seven seconds clear of team-mate Oscar Piastri, who qualified strongly but again seemed to suffer a bit more with tyre degradation than Norris.

Fernando Alonso made a late move on Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri to finish seventh for Aston Martin, securing Alonso fourth in the drivers' championship over Leclerc on count back. Alonso complained “we have the slowest car on the straight - by far” and also escaped censure for a strange moment where he appeared to brake test Hamilton’s Mercedes approaching the Turn 5 hairpin.

Tsunoda attempted a bold one-stop strategy in a bid to secure the sixth place needed to vault AlphaTauri ahead of Williams in the battle for seventh in the championship, in boss Franz Tost’s last race for the team.

But after a brief cameo in the lead while running a long opening stint on medium tyres, Tsunoda ran out of grip and slumped to eighth - overtaken by Piastri and Alonso, and almost beaten by Hamilton too.

Hamilton survived a front wing-damaging bump with Pierre Gasly’s Alpine at Turn 6 early in the race to finish in the top 10, completing a miserable weekend in which the seven times champion has looked uncomfortable driving his Mercedes W14 throughout.

Lance Stroll climbed from 13th on the grid to claim the final point, finishing the best of the three drivers to begin the race on the hard tyre.

He finished only half a second ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who made a very early first stop to remove a visor tear-off from his car’s front brake duct before charging along to finish just outside the points.

Gasly was furious to be stopped two laps after Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon at the first round of pitstops, having also incurred some damage from being rear-ended by Hamilton.

Gasly finished 13th, nearly four seconds behind Ocon as both Alpines ended up well shy of contention for the top 10.

Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari climbed from 16th on the grid to as high as eighth, but the need to make a very late second stop for a non-hard tyre meant he was never going to hold on to that result as Ferrari waited for a safety car that never came.

That was really Sainz's only hope of beating Hamilton to secure the extra points Ferrari needed in the fight for second. Sainz eventually retired to the pits after having to make that second stop under racing conditions and he was classified 18th.

Race Result

PosNameCarLapsLaps LedTotal TimeFastest LapPitstopsPts
1Max VerstappenRed Bull5801h27m02.624s1m26.993s026
2Charles LeclercFerrari580+17.993s1m28.199s018
3George RussellMercedes580+20.328s1m28.187s015
4Sergio PérezRed Bull580+21.453s1m27.493s012
5Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes580+24.284s1m28.164s010
6Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes580+31.487s1m28.138s08
7Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes580+39.512s1m28.256s06
8Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT580+43.088s1m29.256s04
9Lewis HamiltonMercedes580+44.424s1m28.372s02
10Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes580+55.632s1m28.050s01
11Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT580+56.229s1m28.571s00
12Esteban OconAlpine-Renault580+6.373s1m30.033s00
13Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault580+10.360s1m29.016s00
14Alex AlbonWilliams-Mercedes580+13.184s1m27.845s00
15Nico HülkenbergHaas-Ferrari580+23.696s1m29.217s00
16Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes580+27.791s1m28.580s00
17Guanyu ZhouAlfa Romeo-Ferrari580+29.422s1m28.746s00
18Carlos SainzFerrari570+0.000s1m29.452s00
19Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari570+0.000s1m29.863s00
20Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari570+0.000s1m29.934s00
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