Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc tied with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez on the second spot in the championship, ending up with 308 points – three more than the latter
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Photo: Reuters
Double world champion Max Verstappen led from pole to win the season-ending F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday. With the victory in the twilight race, the Dutchman recorded his 15th result from 22 races of the season – the most by any driver in F1 history.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc held onto second position in the championship by fending off an intense challenge from Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, in his final race, scored a point by finishing 10th. The race was technical in nature with pit stop strategies: one versus two and tyre management playing a crucial role.
“It was a good race and an amazing season. It was all about tyre management. It’s incredible to win again here and to have 15 wins in a season is unbelievable. It’s been really enjoyable to achieve something like this this year. I know it will be hard to replicate but it is good motivation to try and do the same next year,” Verstappen said after finishing the season with 454 points.
Leclerc, tied with Perez on the second spot in the championship, ended up with 308 points, three more than the latter.
“This race took a lot out of me. I was 110 per cent from the first lap to the last lap. We had the perfect race. I knew the only way to beat Checo (Perez) was with a different strategy; I really hope next year we can do a step forward to fight for the championship. We will push in the winter break to catch them back a little bit,” Leclerc noted.
Perez, who went flat out in the final laps, is hoping for a stronger 2023.
“It’s how it is sometimes. At the end of the day, I am happy as I gave it my all. I’m sure we’ll be back stronger next year. We had great moments. I did struggle a bit with these tyres this year in terms of managing them in the race. So, I’m sure that is something we can improve for next year.”
The climax race, with plenty riding on it, had a smooth start with the orders on the grid almost remaining unchanged in the opening minutes. The first dramatic moment of the opening lap came as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton went wheel-to-wheel, with the Mercedes driver going off the track and gaining a place. But the seven-time champion had to give the place back following the stewards’ notification.
He soon whizzed past Sainz, but then started to struggle with power issues. Hamilton was passed by Sainz and teammate George Russel, who later was slapped a five-second fine for an unsafe release while he pitted.
At the half-way stage of 58 laps, it was Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Russell and Hamilton. Unfortunately, on lap 28, Alonso’s final race with Alpine ended in a retirement with a “suspected water leak.”
With 15 laps to go, Verstappen led Leclerc and Hamilton, with Perez challenging for the third spot. On lap 46, Perez overtook Hamilton following a wheel-to-wheel encounter. Hamilton retired with mechanical failure, thereby ending the first season of his career without a win. The final laps saw him go all out for the second spot with Leclerc. Both were smashing personal bests, but Leclerc held onto the second place. At the end, the top three drivers and Vettel celebrated the season ending by doing donuts.
“I enjoyed the race. Once the lights went off, it was full on race mode. We didn’t go for maybe the best strategy, but overall it was a big day, and thank you for the support. So many flags, so many supporting faces. It’s great to see that we have the power to inspire you with what we do.
Thank you for the support, the messages and all the love. I’m sure I’m going to miss this more than I can think of,” Vettel said, as he signed out of F1.
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