Motor racing-Verstappen finishes dominant season in record style


Formula One F1 - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - November 26, 2023 Red Bull's Max Verstappen crosses the line to win the race Pool via REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

ABU DHABI (Reuters) -Red Bull's triple world champion Max Verstappen wrapped up Formula One's most dominant season with a record-extending 19th win in 22 races at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.

The pole-to-flag victory, for the fourth year in a row under the Yas Marina floodlights, left the 26-year-old alone in third place in Formula One's all-time list of winners with a career 54.

Only seven times champions Lewis Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91) have won more.

Sergio Perez finished second on the road for Red Bull but a five second post-race penalty dropped the Mexican off the podium, behind Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Mercedes' George Russell.

Leclerc had let Perez through on the penultimate lap in a strategic calculation to help his team's bid for second place that ultimately came to nothing when the Mexican was unable to pull out a big enough gap.

Russell's podium finish meant Mercedes ended their first winless season since 2011 as best of the rest behind Red Bull, who scored a whopping 860 points to Mercedes' 409 and Ferrari's 406.

"It was an incredible season," said Verstappen, who also became the first driver to lead 1,000 racing laps in a single championship, scored a record 575 points and ended the year with a record win rate of 86.4%.

Along the way he racked up a record 10 wins in a row and 21 podium finishes, with Red Bull winning all but one of the races.

"It was a bit emotional on the in-lap, it was the last time I was sitting in the car which has of course given me a lot," he said after taking the chequered flag 17.9 seconds ahead of Leclerc.

"It will be hard to do something similar again but we definitely enjoyed this year."

MCLAREN FOURTH

McLaren secured fourth overall, 22 points clear of Aston Martin, with Lando Norris fifth and Australian team mate Oscar Piastri sixth in the best season by a rookie driver since Hamilton in 2007.

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso finished seventh, winning a close battle with Leclerc, Norris and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz for fourth overall in the championship, with AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda eighth.

Tsunoda led a race for the first time, for five laps after Verstappen and Leclerc pitted on 17 and 18 respectively, providing a nice farewell for retiring AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost.

The points were still not quite enough to overtake Williams in seventh place overall.

Hamilton finished ninth and Canadian Lance Stroll took the final point for Aston Martin in a race with no retirements.

MERCEDES AND FERRARI BATTLE

Verstappen was 6.2 seconds clear of Leclerc at half distance, with the television cameras mostly focused on the tight battle between Mercedes and Ferrari and the order changing through the evening.

The champion, who wrapped up his third title in Qatar last month with six grands prix to spare, led cleanly into the first corner from pole position with Leclerc close behind and twice trying to get past on the opening lap.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris followed in hot pursuit, with the latter passing Russell at the start, and traded positions as Leclerc's challenge faded.

Russell passed Piastri for fourth on lap 11 and then overtook Norris in the pits four laps later after a slow 5.1 second stop for the McLaren driver.

Further back Hamilton and Gasly made contact on lap 15, the Mercedes running into the back of the Alpine, in a tussle for sixth place.

Perez, who started in ninth place, was handed his time penalty for a collision with Norris while trying to pass the McLaren on lap 47.

"That's just dangerous driving. He had loads of space," said Norris over the radio, with the Mexican later protesting that he had been ahead.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Jan Harvey, Louise Heavens and Pritha Sarkar)

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