Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen of Red Bull celebrates after winning the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023 at the Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2023. It was the Dutch driver’s 19th victory in the 23-race season. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

An incredible season! Max Verstappen summed up the 2023 season after the Red Bull driver sped to his record-breaking 19th win of the year in Abu Dhabi.

The Dutchman flashed a thumbs-up as he took the chequered flag at the Yas Marina on Sunday. His doughnuts in a circle of smoke had become a familiar sight at the Formula One Etihad Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The fourth win in the UAE capital was a mere extension of his rousing season.

Last week’s Las Vegas thriller raised visions of a tightly contested race. But Verstappen led from the pole and dodged early challenges before racing to victory in 1:27:02.624 in the 58-lap race.

Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen of Red Bull leads the pack at the start of the race. This is the 15th running of the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit.

The three-time world champion was 17.993 seconds ahead of Monaco driver Charles Leclerc, whose brave drive fetched him the runner-up spot. However, that wasn’t enough to haul Ferrari to the second spot behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ championship.

That went to Mercedes, who nosed ahead by three points after Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was moved to the fourth place. Perez came home second behind teammate Verstappen but was docked with a five-second penalty for a clash with McLaren’s Lando Norris. George Russell of Mercedes was promoted to third after Perez was relegated, while Russell’s teammate seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton finished another season without a win. Norris came fifth, while Hamilton was ninth.

Racing fans
Racing fans soak in the atmosphere ahead of the race. Several celebrities including Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, Ronaldo Nazario, former FI driver Carlos Sainz Sr, and several others were spotted among the spectators.

Verstappen lost only three times in the 23-race season, and the Imola Grand Prix was scrapped due to bad weather. That’s a breathtaking performance by any yardstick. The Abu Dhabi GP was Verstappen’s 54th career win, which took him past German driver Sebastian Vettel. Verstappen is now third behind Briton Lewis Hamilton (103) and Germany’s Michael Schumacher (96).

The Dutchman knew this was a special season, one he may not equal in future. Verstappen was aware of the significance, and the Red Bull car’s superiority was a critical factor. He patted the car before he stepped away to celebrate with the Red Bull team.

“I felt quite emotional on the in-lap as it’s the last time in this car that has given me such a lot,” the 26-year-old said.

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Verstappen ended the season as the only driver to complete every lap of the season and led more than 1000 laps. He also broke Jim Clark’s 1963 record for the highest percentage of laps led in a season.

“Well, I knew it was on the cards going into the race. So we engineered it well. I wanted to stay in the deep to get the laps,” Verstappen said at the post-race press conference.

Abu Dhabi marked the F1 season’s finale. A season that solely belonged to Verstappen and Red Bull.