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  • Writer's pictureBen Waterworth

Abu Dhabi talking points: King Verstappen closes out 2023 in style, Lewis Hamilton's sneaky scuttlebutt

The final race of the 2023 F1 season is over with as Max Verstappen did what Max Verstappen does best: dominate and win a grand prix.

There were plenty of battles down the order to put some interesting spins on the lower Championship fights, and plenty of interesting things to think about as we head into the off season.

Let’s get into it.

Verstappen’s golden throne

This season has been the season of Max Verstappen.

An absolutely incredible year that saw him take 19 of the 22 race wins, with an additional four sprint race wins, meaning Verstappen won 23 out of the possible 28 races he could’ve won in 2023, a staggering 82% win ratio across both normal and sprint races.

(Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

I’ve been a fan long enough to witness both the Schumacher/Ferrari and Hamilton/Mercedes domination eras but this one by far takes the cake as the single greatest season in terms of domination ever witnessed.

Let’s sum up just exactly what Verstappen achieved in 2023 when it came to records:

  • Highest percentage of wins in a season

  • Most wins in a season

  • Most points in a season

  • Most consecutive wins

  • Most podiums in a season

  • Most laps led in a season

  • Highest percentage of laps led in a season

  • Most consecutive wins from pole

  • Most wins from pole in a season

  • Biggest points gap between 1st and 2nd in standings

  • Most consecutive races as championship leader

  • Most consecutive points scored

  • Most consecutive top two finishes

  • Most hat-tricks in a season

  • Most pitstops by the winning driver in one race

  • Only driver to win three times in one country

Astonishing, or as Verstappen would put it, ‘simply lovely’.

I’m in no way a diehard Max Verstappen fan, but 2023 has definitely made it impossible not to like him more and appreciate that we really have been witness to a true icon of the sport in the most dominant possible way. And given how he has only gotten better since his breakthrough Championship win in 2021, there’s every chance that things will only remain to get even more dominant in 2024 and beyond.

Bravo Max. Bravo.

Mercedes’ luck off the back of consistency

As the battle for second in the Constructors’ Championship took centre stage in Abu Dhabi, many people put down Mercedes taking the position by three points over Ferrari as simply luck due to the contentious penalty handed late in the race to Sergio Perez.

However while that was maybe a tad lucky for German team, given that let’s be honest that really shouldn’t have been a penalty to Checo, you have to admire Mercedes for their extremely consistent year that helped them take the runner-up spot.

For the opening 12 rounds of the season, both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished in the top eight at every race they finished, with the only two times they didn’t finish coming from Russell’s retirements in Australia and Canada.

(Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

In the final 10 rounds of the season, there were only two times in which a Mercedes finished lower than eighth when they finished, with Russell finishing 17th in the Netherlands and 16th in Singapore, a race in which he would’ve been on the podium had he not gone hard for the win on the final lap and crashed out.

Only three other times were the Mercedes not classified, two other retirements going the way of Russell in Qatar and Brazil and a disqualification in Austin.

Hamilton meanwhile was the epitome of consistency, finishing every single race in the top eight.

Ferrari on the other hand, despite being the only team besides Red Bull to win a race, were nowhere near as consistent. Despite having the same amount of retirements for the season as Mercedes with four, both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished several races outside the points, as well as having two races without a start and a disqualification.

It was tight. It was tough. But despite their complaints of a ‘bad year’ for Mercedes (the first in which they haven’t won a race since 2011), it still was a consistent showing that enabled them to do enough to secure the title of ‘best of the rest’ and the extra millions of dollars that comes with it.

Leclerc needs a promotion

A lot is said of the Ferrari strategy team, and as a Ferrari fan it’s somewhat of a sore talking point at the best of time. But perhaps they need to hire Charles Leclerc to take on the role?

As Leclerc held second in the dying laps of the race, he was well aware of the title battle for the Scuderia to take second in the Constructor’s Championship and what was required.

Simply, he needed Sergio Perez to finish ahead of George Russell, but that wasn’t going to happen to the previously mentioned contentious penalty which would allow Russell to finish ahead of the Mexican, despite Sergio having track position.

With that in mind, Leclerc decided to let Check through in the hope he would be able to build a big enough gap between himself and Russell, with Leclerc maintaining a gap of less than five seconds so he could still finish the race in second. Genius.

Ultimately it didn’t work, but it was incredibly smart thinking by Leclerc to try and help his team out with strategy when they have so badly failed him in that department over the years.

Mixed with Carlos Sainz’s heroics in that department earlier this year in Singapore, and perhaps both drivers could get the promotion moving forward.

The Hamilton hearsay saga

In the lead up to the race, there was an interesting story around Lewis Hamilton and supposed contact he had made with Red Bull in the early part of the season.

According to Christian Horner, Hamilton had contacted him around the prospect of driving for Red Bull and creating a mouth-watering pairing with Max Verstappen.

Horner told The Daily Mail ““We have had several conversations over the years about Lewis joining. They have reached out a few times. Most recently, earlier in the year, there was an inquiry about whether there would be any interest.”

When questioned about this during the weekend, Hamilton denied such a conversation ever happened and said that Horner was just “stirring things.”

(Photo by Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Horner then came back and said that it was actually Hamilton’s father Anthony who had contacted him, before then going on to throw Hamilton further under the bus by saying that the rumoured talks with Ferrari earlier in the season were legitimate.

Hamilton then came back and said that while he had a good relationship with Ferrari team principal Fred Vassuer and Ferrari chairman John Elkann, there were never any talks around a Ferrari move.

So what was the point of this, Christian? With no Championship on the line for Hamilton and no real reason to stir the pot with the two former rival teams, it was an interesting move by Horner on a weekend that had little to no stakes for Red Bull.

For Hamilton, he calmly deflected the questions and went into the weekend in typical Lewis Hamilton fashion and did his job.

One last bit of late season gossip and drama though is always entertaining to witness.

Abu Dhabi’s new record

By hosting the final race for the 12th time, Abu Dhabi officially set the record for the most ever season finales held at the same circuit.

For Aussies it’s a little bittersweet, with the Yas Marina Circuit taking the title from the beloved Adelaide Street Circuit, which held the season finale 11 times between 1985 and 1995.

Behind that, Watkins Glen in the USA has held the finale eight times, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico and Interlagos in Brazil seven times and both Monza in Italy and Suzuka in Japan holding in six times.

And while the Abu Dhabi track has slightly improved since track modifications in 2022, it has to be said that the majority of F1 fans would gladly see any of those other circuits return to take the coveted season finale slot to bring us a much grander way to end the season.

All the same, congrats Yas Marina for your new record.

This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here


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