Despite first place in the constructors’ championship having been secured by Red Bull, alongside a one-two lockout from Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez in the drivers’ championship, it was still all to play for at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Second in the constructors was being hotly contested between Ferrari and Mercedes, and seventh was up in the air for Williams, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and Haas. With a potential $20m difference in prize money, the best final standing possible in the constructors championship was crucial for these teams. A four-way battle for fourth place in the drivers’ championship was also being fought between Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris – the final race of the Formula 1 2023 season was a high-stakes event.

Verstappen was back in his familiar pole position for a final time in 2023, with Leclerc right behind in second. Oscar Piastri had qualified in third, George Russell in fourth and Lando Norris in fifth. After a fantastic performance in qualifying, Yuki Tsunoda had qualified in sixth, a heartwarming goodbye gift for team principal Franz Tost, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix being his final race at Alpha Tauri.

As the lights went out for one last time, Verstappen pulled away in front. However, Leclerc was not far behind, and lunged down the inside of the Red Bull at turn one and continued fighting with Verstappen through the next few turns. Once again this season, it looked as though Leclerc might take the lead, but it was not to be. Verstappen defended well and managed to stay ahead. Norris had an impressive launch, passing both Russell and Piastri into third.

The McLaren of Piastri and the Mercedes of Russell were battling it out for fourth on track – from lap one they had been close together, and by lap seven, Russell had DRS on Piastri and attempted to go around the outside. His attempt here failed, but on lap eleven, he managed to pass the Australian driver before the braking zone of turn nine after Piastri locked-up.

Piastri pitted on lap twelve, and exited the pit lane in fifteenth ahead of Fernando Alonso, with whom a fight for position ensued. Piastri defended brilliantly and was able to keep his place. Norris was subsequently called into the pits, hoping to stay ahead of Russell, who had also pitted. However, McLaren (rather uncharacteristically for this season) ended up giving Norris a 5.1-second pit stop to Mercedes’ 2.9, which meant that Russell was able to gain track position and exited the pit lane ahead of Norris in third.

Further back, a collision occurred between Pierre Gasly and Lewis Hamilton after Gasly locked up, which resulted in Hamilton driving into the back of the Alpine. He suffered damage to his front wing endplate, which likely led to a lack of pace as it remained unfixed. After all of the cars ahead of him had pitted, Tsunoda, for the first time in his Formula 1 career, was now leading the Grand Prix. He had had a fantastic race so far and a great stint on his tyres, but his lead came to an end when he pitted on lap 23.

Only a few laps later, Verstappen was now over five-seconds clear of Leclerc, extending his lead ahead of the Ferrari. Sergio Pérez, who had started in a mediocre ninth, had risen up the grid and passed Piastri to take fifth, an impressive recovery from the Mexican driver.

Eventually, Leclerc pitted and Pérez inherited second. Russell, concerned for the status of Mercedes’ constructors’ championship battle with Ferrari, asked how Hamilton was getting on over team radio. He was told “He’s doing a good job at the moment, having a fight of his own.” This answer didn’t please Russell, who (after a choice expletive), asked “How are we doing in the championship? Are we good?” After being told “We’re fine at the moment”, he continued with his race.

Ferrari had left Carlos Sainz, who had been knocked out of Q1, out on his tyres with the hope of a speedy pit-stop under a safety car to boost his track position. However, this strategic decision has been questioned by some – at Abu Dhabi, there have only been eight safety cars in the past fifteen years, and so this was perhaps rather wishful thinking from the Ferrari pit wall. Eventually, they gave up hope and pitted Sainz.

Pérez was now chasing Norris for fourth. He got extremely close to the McLaren driver, and at turn seven of lap 47 he made contact and Norris was pushed off the track. He dropped behind and had another go, and got past on the next lap. Pérez was handed a five-second penalty for causing a collision, however the decision by the stewards here has been called into question. Some have argued that this contact should have been classified as a racing incident – Norris sustained no damage and still maintained his track position after the initial collision. Little did the stewards know that this penalty would hold extreme power over the result of the constructors’ championship…

Pérez soon pulled away from Norris and began chasing Russell for third. He passed the Mercedes on lap 54 – Russell now had to stay within five seconds of the Red Bull in order to secure second for Mercedes in the championship. Leclerc also clocked onto this, and in a very intelligent call, said over team radio “Tell me the gap between Checo and Russell. If there is less than five seconds I will give [Pérez] the slipstream and let him past for the last sector. He’s got five seconds anyway.” He knew that the further ahead Pérez was able to get, the more likely it was that Russell would finish outside of the five-second margin, thereby solidifying second for Ferrari. He therefore dropped back and let the Red Bull pass him.

However, Pérez was not able to push forwards enough, and Russell crossed the line in fourth, but within five seconds of the Mexican driver. After Pérez’s penalty was applied, he inherited third place, and solidified second place for Mercedes in the constructor’s championship. Verstappen claimed the victory, Leclerc took second, Russell third, Pérez fourth, Norris fifth, Piastri sixth, and Alonso, Tsunoda, Hamilton and Stroll rounded off the points.

It had been a year of consistency from Max Verstappen and Red Bull, but also a year of fantastic racing all around. As Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase said, “All missions complete. What a year.” Verstappen closed the season by performing some impeccable donuts and pulling seamlessly into the first-position spot – a perfect metaphor for his near-flawless season.

And that’s it for 2023. See below for the final drivers’ and constructors’ championship standings. Keep an eye out for a totally unbiased run down of the 2023 season from myself and Thomas Britton. We are good at our jobs.