The Formula One season wrapped up with Max Verstappen rightfully claiming victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.
Verstappen, who secured his third consecutive world championship in October, capped off the 2023 campaign with his 19th win, extending his record. The season concluded in a fitting manner, reminiscent of its beginning, with a Red Bull 1-2 finish. However, due to a five-second penalty, Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez ended up in fourth place. Instead, the podium featured Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ George Russell alongside Verstappen.
As we bid farewell to the year and eagerly await 2024, here’s a recap of the key highlights from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the season as a whole.
Incomparable Max, an irresistible force in Verstappen.
We’ve exhausted all the descriptors this season, succinctly stating that Verstappen proved unbeatable in both the championship and Sunday’s race.
Verstappen secured pole position at the Yas Marina track for the fourth consecutive year and once again converted it into a victory, this time with an insurmountable 18-second lead.
Despite Leclerc putting up an initial challenge, he couldn’t sustain the pace. Even when DRS was finally enabled on lap three, Verstappen had already established a 1.3-second gap, steadily increasing his lead.
During the race, Verstappen reached the milestone of leading 1,000 laps, secured the fastest lap bonus, and concluded his dominant season with an impressive 575 points. In comparison, Perez finished a distant second with 285 points. The gap between them (290 points) was greater than the one separating Perez from the last-place finisher, a remarkable statistic reminiscent of Gretzky’s achievements.
This victory also elevated Verstappen to third place on the all-time wins list with 54. Starting the season in sixth place, he surpassed legends Ayrton Senna (41), Alain Prost (51), and Sebastian Vettel (53). However, he still has a considerable distance to cover before reaching the records of Michael Schumacher (91) and Lewis Hamilton (103).
With Perez contributing two victories, Red Bull dominated by winning 21 out of 22 races—Carlos Sainz’s win in Singapore being the exception. This achievement will be challenging to surpass, and hopefully, it will endure for a while, recognizing that what’s beneficial for the record books may not always translate to entertaining races. The responsibility now lies with McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, Aston Martin, or any other team to find ways to narrow the gap to the formidable Red Bull team.
The Enigma of Perez
As predictable as Verstappen’s victory was, so was Perez’s mishandling of a chance for Red Bull to secure a 1-2 finish in the race.
Starting ninth on the grid after another underwhelming qualifying performance (though he did reach the final knockout session this time), Perez had to battle his way through the field. He engaged in a heated battle with Lando Norris on lap 47, attempting an inside move that resulted in contact and sent the McLaren off the track. The subsequent five-second penalty handed to Perez by officials suggested that he could have turned in more and provided Norris with space. It added to the frustration, especially considering Perez cleanly passed Norris a little later, highlighting that he could have exercised more patience and chosen a better opportunity.
Perez’s impatience had also cost him earlier at his home race in Mexico, where he crashed into Leclerc on the opening lap while trying to pass the polesitter.
Despite finishing second in the championship, Perez consistently left observers wanting more, whether in qualifying or on race day. The Perez who claimed victory in two of the first four races of the season seemed elusive. While his position may be secure heading into 2024, his seat is undeniably under scrutiny.
Mercedes narrowly surpasses Ferrari.
While Ferrari secured a win and multiple podiums throughout the season, it was the consistently steady (albeit somewhat unspectacular) performance of Mercedes that earned them the second spot in the constructors’ championship.
Mercedes held a narrow four-point lead over Ferrari going into the final race, and the provisional standings kept fluctuating during the Abu Dhabi GP. Despite Leclerc’s efforts, including deliberately slowing down to concede second place to aid Perez in finishing more than five seconds ahead of Russell, the strategic move did not pay off. Russell remained close enough that Perez dropped to fourth in the final standings.
Mercedes also secured some insurance as Hamilton crossed the line in ninth place, but it was Russell who played a crucial role. Starting fourth, Russell maneuvered ahead of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri early on and capitalized on a mishandled pitstop to pass Norris, claiming a podium position.
Leclerc demonstrated a commendable effort to elevate Ferrari’s position, but the challenge was formidable, especially as Sainz failed to advance past the first qualifying session, starting 16th on the grid. Unfortunately, Sainz couldn’t secure any points, finishing in 18th place.
Leclerc faced an unfortunate season with three retirements, a disqualification in the U.S. Grand Prix due to excessive wear on his rear skid block, and a DNS (Did Not Start) when a hydraulics problem led to a crash during the formation lap for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. Despite the damage sustained in Mexico while tangling with Perez, it’s remarkable that it didn’t result in another Did Not Finish (DNF) and instead led to a third-place finish.
To add to the disappointments, Leclerc was denied the opportunity to perform doughnuts.
Rises in performance for Aston Martin and McLaren.
The standout performers of the season were Aston Martin and McLaren.
Aston Martin made a strong start, with Fernando Alonso achieving podium finishes in six of the first eight races. Although Alonso’s momentum waned with only two more podiums later in the season, he concluded the year in fourth place in the championship, marking his best season in a decade. Even teammate Lance Stroll achieved a career-best 10th place overall. The team significantly improved from seventh place and 55 points in the constructors’ standings last season to fifth place with 280 points this year.
Despite Alonso expressing frustration about having the slowest car on the straights, he showcased impressive overtakes, including passing Hamilton with ease and even seemingly employing a “brake test” on his longtime rival. The unexpected drama involving Alonso and Hamilton added a nostalgic touch, harking back to earlier years.
On the other hand, McLaren faced a challenging start to the year, accumulating only 17 points in the first eight races. However, the team experienced a remarkable turnaround, coinciding with Aston Martin’s dip in performance, securing consistent podium finishes. Norris achieved six runner-up positions, and rookie Piastri claimed victory during the sprint in Qatar. McLaren finished fourth in the constructors’ standings, a testament to their impressive recovery.
Looking ahead to 2024, the question remains whether either team can sustain their success throughout the entire season.
Serious Season Antics
The grid for 2024 is poised to mirror the one that concluded the 2023 season, with only the fate of Williams rookie Logan Sargeant yet to be decided.
Sargeant secured a solitary point, earned on home turf at the U.S. Grand Prix, finishing 21st in a 20-car field. Liam Lawson contributed two points during his five-race substitute stint for the injured Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri.
Sargeant faces a challenging task to demonstrate his suitability for F1, although Williams might consider his status as a rookie. Notably, Sargeant outperformed fellow rookie Nyck de Vries, who was ousted from AlphaTauri after just 10 races.
As the majority of the grid becomes open for negotiations next year, the true “silly season” is anticipated in 2024. Is it 2024 yet?