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Verstappen wins final race of 2023 as Mercedes hold off Ferrari for second in standings

Max Verstappen secured his 19th triumph of the year at Formula One’s Abu Dhabi season finale on Sunday, capping the most dominant season by any driver in the sport’s history.

In his wake, Mercedes kept Ferrari three points at bay to secure second place in the constructors’ championship — a result that will impact the prize money shared to the two teams by F1 next year.

Red Bull secured the constructors’ title in late September this year and achieved every race except the Singapore Grand Prix this season.

Verstappen, who secured the drivers’ title at the Qatar Grand Prix in October, extended his own record for the most victories in a season from 15 to 19 with the Abu Dhabi victory while sealing the title by 290 points over teammate Sergio Perez.

The win in Abu Dhabi also saw the three-time world champion take third on Formula One’s winner’s list from Sebastian Vettel with his 54th career victory.

“What an incredible year,” Verstappen said after crossing the line. “It was a bit emotional on the in-lap.”

Red Bull won 21 of 22 races this season, with Sergio Perez claiming two wins.

“It will be very hard to have another season like this, we know that,” Verstappen said. “We will see. We are working hard for next year to have a very competitive car.”

Verstappen led all but six laps of the 58-lap race, meaning the focus was almost entirely on the battle behind between Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ George Russell.

With Carlos Sainz out of position and relying on a safety car to add to Ferrari’s points tally and Lewis Hamilton battling Yuki Tsunoda for eighth, the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes largely rested on the results of Leclerc and Russell.

Had Russell dropped to fourth at the finish and Leclerc retained second place, it would have swung the battle back in Ferrari’s favor — something Leclerc realized and tried to manufacture as Perez’s Red Bull closed on the pair in the closing stages of the race.

Perez, who started ninth but proved quick during the grand prix, was carrying a five-second penalty for contact with Lando Norris after his second pit stop, meaning that Russell and Leclerc could end behind him on the track and remain on the podium by staying within five seconds.

Leclerc recognized this, and when Perez overtook Russell for third, he slowed to let the Red Bull pass and then attempted to back Russell up so that the Mercedes dropped more than five seconds behind Perez and back to fourth place at the finish.

The strategy might have worked had more than one lap remained when Perez passed the Ferrari, meaning there was not enough time for Leclerc to execute the strategy and slow Russell.

When they crossed the line, Leclerc and Russell, who were both within four seconds of Perez, were promoted back to second and third once the penalty was applied.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” said Leclerc, after his third podium in the past four races. “It’s just a shame we finished third in constructors, that’s all that mattered to me. We didn’t achieve that, but I want to thank the team for doing such incredible work.”

Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri finished fifth and sixth for McLaren, securing fourth place in the constructors’ championship for their team ahead of Aston Martin, who secured seventh with Fernando Alonso and tenth with Lance Stroll.

Tsunoda took eighth place and four points for AlphaTauri, leaving the team four points shy of Williams for seventh in the final constructors’ standings.

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