ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - Max Verstappen wrapped up a historic year on the top step of the podium again for the 19th time in 2023 after winning the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit.
At lights out, polesitter Max Verstappen moved to defend against Charles Leclerc's challenge for the lead into the first corner. The Oracle Red Bull Racing driver was able to maintain the lead and eke out a lead of over a second to Leclerc within the opening laps.
"The first stint, I didn't really know what to expect, because I didn't do a long run," Verstappen said. "So, I probably took it a bit too easy in the beginning, but I guess that was better than trying to push ahead and destroy the tires."
Behind Leclerc, Lando Norris managed to pass George Russell and drive up to the back of his McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri. On Lap 5, McLaren swapped Piastri and Norris, promoting Norris to third.
Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz, who suffered an uncharacteristically early exit during qualifying, gained a few spots each at the start.
Five laps into the Grand Prix, a DRS chain formed that included Leclerc in second down to Lance Stroll in 12th. A tear-off caught in the brake duct of Daniel Ricciardo's AlphaTauri forced him to pit from 15th prematurely on Lap 8.
A lock-up from Piastri allowed Russell to slip by into fourth place on Lap 11.
On the 13th lap, Fernando Alonso opened up the first round of pit stops when he dove into the pit lane to swap out his Pirelli medium compound tire for the hard compound.
Norris and Russell quickly followed suit. A slow stop of 5.1 seconds for Norris allowed Russell to leapfrog the McLaren driver in the pit lane.
At the end of the first cycle of stops, Verstappen maintained the lead ahead of Leclerc, Russell and the two McLarens. When the race reached the halfway mark, Verstappen controlled the race with a comfortable lead of over five seconds.
On Lap 34, Norris was called in from fourth for his second stop in an attempt to undercut Russell. However, a good stop from Mercedes on the following lap saw Russell emerge from the pits ahead of Norris and maintain the position.
Hamilton was able to pass Alonso, who bemoaned the Aston Martin's lack of pace on the straights.
After managing to overtake Hamilton again, in a controversial move, Alonso slowed down ahead of the braking zone in an attempt to force Hamilton to pass him and gift Alonso the use of DRS.
Surprised by the move, Hamilton almost collided with Alonso and did not pull off the pass.
Alonso refocused his efforts on the car in front of him, Sainz, who had been left out on older tires in the hopes of gaining a free or reduced pit stop during a late-race safety car. The Aston Martin driver made quick work of Sainz and propelled himself further up the field.
On Lap 48, Hamilton passed an ailing Sainz in an impressive move around the outside.
On the same lap, Sergio Perez who started ninth after his lap time was deleted for exceeding track limits, attempted to pass Norris for position on track. However, Perez made contact with Norris and was issued a five-second time penalty which he disagreed with.
Throughout the race, Mercedes and Ferrari engaged in a battle for second place in the Constructors' Championship.
After learning of Perez's penalty, Leclerc allowed Perez through in an attempt to allow Perez to finish ahead of Russell.
"I tried to give Checo the DRS for him to try and pull away five seconds to George, but that didn't quite work out," said Leclerc.
Perez was the second car across the finish line but his five-second time penalty dropped him behind Leclerc, Russell and off the podium entirely.
"I'm really pleased to finish on this high because it's been a really challenging season," Russell said.
"You know, lady luck may be on our side slightly today with Checo’s penalty but I think that more than made up for the other races this year."
In the end, Verstappen capped off the season in identical fashion to how it began with yet another Grand Prix win. The three-time Formula 1 World Champion became the first driver to lead more than 1000 laps in a single season.
The 2023 GRID Ranking is the seventh year of the world's premier motorsport ranking and was initially released on Sunday, April 2.
Drivers in the seven racing series participating in the ranking (NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, Formula E, World Rally Championship, Repco Supercars, MotoGP) have earned GRID Ratings, which helped determine their seeding during Week 34 of the 2023 GRID Ranking.
GRID Ranking Week 35 Formula 1 Drivers:
MOST RECENT FINISH
Full results from the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix can be found here: