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Max Verstappen finishes the season strong with a win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Maybe the enormity of his accomplishment sunk in for Max Verstappen as he celebrated his victory on the podium at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, marking the end of the 2023 Formula One season. The Dutch driver smiled as he stood on the highest step, but his expression hinted that he knew it might not get any better than this.

His win at the Yas Marina circuit was indicative of the absolute authority with which he has dominated this season. By the flag he had more than 17 seconds on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was second. Leclerc gave a valiant drive but, with George Russell in third, one that was not enough to prevent Mercedes beating the Scuderia to second in the constructors’ championship.

Verstappen, of course, was not involved in such petty squabbling after a season of such success and almost flawless execution. He was untouchable from pole to flag, the margins such that he might have got out, had a cup of coffee, a go on the Space Invaders machine and still had time to spare. The 26-year-old already had his third world championship sealed in Qatar. Abu Dhabi was but the most emphatic full stop as he and his Red Bull team completed what stands as the most dominant season in F1 history.

Even during the last moments of this journey, Verstappen remained determined to achieve another accomplishment. He instructed his team to delay his pit stop, aiming to become the first driver to lead for 1,000 laps in a single season. With his unwavering determination, he now holds this record as well.

The figures may be challenging to comprehend, as they prove to be a tough read for his competitors. They will likely be relieved to leave this behind and look forward to a new year with more challenges, rather than continuously watching Verstappen pull ahead in every race. This has been the case in nearly every race.

He achieved 19 out of 22 wins in Abu Dhabi, surpassing his previous record of 15 wins last year and breaking the previous record of 13 wins by Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher. This level of dominance is unprecedented, with a streak of 10 consecutive victories showcasing an immense level of control.

The Dutchman’s record, which includes two second places and one fifth, was only slightly disrupted on the rare occasions when he had to navigate through the field. That one particular spot must be a source of annoyance on an otherwise flawless record.

Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium.

The noteworthy aspect is the brief yet impactful duration that has propelled him to the highest level. With 34 wins in the last two years, this 54th victory surpasses Vettel’s career total of 53, solidifying the Dutchman as the third most accomplished driver in F1 history in terms of wins, behind only Lewis Hamilton and Schumacher.

Although some may disagree, Verstappen’s car was undeniably exceptional compared to the other cars on the track. However, even his teammate Sergio Pérez, who had the same car, could not match Verstappen’s performance. Verstappen’s consistency throughout the season was truly remarkable and it is difficult to envision anyone else achieving the same level.

The race – as is so often the case at this bland, flat enormodrome in the desert – was something of a procession but one enlivened by the fight between Mercedes and Ferrari for second in the constructors’ championship that went to the wire.

In the intense final stretch, Mercedes successfully maintained their position, with Russell remaining calm and doing just enough to fend off Pérez’s late charge and secure third place.

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Pérez overtook the British driver on lap 54, but then had to catch up by five seconds due to a penalty he received for a collision with McLaren’s Lando Norris. Pérez successfully closed the gap by more than three seconds, and Leclerc allowed him to pass in a last-minute attempt to support the Mexican. However, Russell maintained his position as the remaining laps ticked by, likely bringing a sigh of relief to Mercedes. The team will also be pleased with the $10 million in prize money this result brings.

McLaren’s Norris and Piastri held fifth and sixth place, securing their team’s top spot against Aston Martin and securing fourth place in the constructors’ championship.

Red Bull has achieved unparalleled success with their impressive numbers. They have won 21 races, surpassing Mercedes’ record of 19 in 2016. They were on track for a perfect season, but were slowed down in Singapore where Carlos Sainz claimed victory.

Verstappen has already stated that the team’s goal for next season is to address their one weakness – a daunting goal for a driver who has been nearly unbeatable in 2023.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll secured seventh and 10th place respectively, while AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda finished in eighth and Mercedes’ Hamilton came in ninth.

Source: theguardian.com