RACE DEBRIEF

    This season, IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe has been taking stock after every Grand Prix and presenting his heroes from the weekend, exclusively for F1.com. Here are his picks from the season finale in Abu Dhabi…

    Yuki Tsunoda – P8

    It was an important weekend for AlphaTauri as they tried to wrestle seventh away from Williams in the constructors’ standings, and Tsunoda understood the assignment.

    READ MORE > THE STRATEGIST: Did the wrong strategy cost AlphaTauri P7 in their constructors' battle with Williams?

    Yas Marina is a track he’s always run well at – including his best career finish here back in 2021 – and he did a brilliant job to qualify up in P6. In the race he held station in the first stint, ultimately taking care of his medium tyres better than anyone else to be the last of the medium runners to pit – and pit from the lead I might add.

    That allowed the team to throw on hards and run it to the flag. He cycled out further back than he had been running, meaning committing to the one-stop strategy was their best bet to improve.

    On a day when even Max Verstappen admitted tyre deg was a bigger deal than he thought, he was the only man in the points to pull off this strategy.

    He even held off a last lap charge from Lewis Hamilton to secure eighth at the line, coming up just three points short of moving his AlphaTauri team ahead of Williams.

    ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28: Yuki Tsunoda of Japan and Scuderia AlphaTauri
    Yuki Tsunoda put in a great drive to seal P8, but it wasn't enough for AlphaTauri to leapfrog Williams for seventh in the constructors'

    George Russell – P3

    Russell once again looked to be the more comfortable driver in the Mercedes camp, comfortably having Hamilton's number all weekend.

    A P4 in qualifying when Hamilton failed to make it into Q3 showed the true gap between the two, and this would prove critical in the constructors’ battle with Ferrari.

    READ MORE: Russell delighted to seal P2 in constructors' for Mercedes as Abu Dhabi podium concludes 'challenging season'

    He had a relatively lonely Sunday running around inside the top five all day, and eventually ended up with a trophy to show for it when Sergio Perez was hit with a five second penalty at the end, which crucially gave him the P3 points needed to keep Mercedes in second in the constructors’.

    Like Tsunoda, on a day when pride and millions of dollars in prize money was on the line, he carried the torch for his team and delivered a strong result.

    ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 24: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63)
    A second podium of the year was just reward for Russell after a great drive

    Sergio Perez – P4

    Perez had a weekend that mirrors his last few in a lot of ways. Unable to match Verstappen in qualifying, he found himself in a frustrating ninth to start the Grand Prix.

    But true to recent form, he turned up on Sunday and drove his Red Bull with purpose and pulled off a great result.

    READ MORE: ‘We deserved a lot more’ insists frustrated Perez as penalty costs him a podium in Abu Dhabi

    He ran a long middle stint before his second stop, giving him a decent tyre advantage over many of his rivals in the top five. He drove up to, and around, several quick cars in the dying laps, legitimately getting himself onto the podium (albeit third was his earned spot before Charles Leclerc gifted him second on the road).

    A silly penalty for what many thought was a racing incident eventually saw him classified as fourth, but a podium worthy drive from the bottom half of the top 10 is the kind of form we’ve come to expect from Perez on Sundays.

    2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Perez picks up penalty for contact with Norris
    2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Perez picks up penalty for contact with Norris

    Charles Leclerc – P2

    Leclerc has been on quite the run himself, lately. This weekend was extra impressive after poor pace early in qualifying left serious doubt he could extend his recent streak of front row starts.

    The first runs in Q3 ended with Leclerc far from a pole threat, and he even radioed the team to say he thought the lap and the balance were good, there just no lap time in the car. As a driver, that is an incredibly frustrating position to be in because you are unsure what to tell the team to ‘fix’ for the next run.

    READ MORE: ‘P2 is all that mattered’ – Leclerc explains late-race tactics with Perez in bid to help Ferrari overhaul Mercedes

    And with very little time to debate it, you can’t think much was changed on the Ferrari before the final Q3 run, meaning most of the pace gain came from the man himself, digging for that little bit extra as we’ve seen him do plenty of times on Saturdays, with P2 on the grid the result.

    The qualifying pace was no guarantee of a good race result, but he managed his afternoon to perfection to secure second (which is basically first in class) in a valiant effort to keep Ferrari in P2 in the constructors battle – even letting Perez by on the last lap to try and create enough of a gap between Perez and Russell to swing the battle in their favour.

    Even though that didn’t happen, it was a great end to what’s been a challenging season for the Monegasque.

    2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Leclerc lets Perez past in bid to beat Mercedes in the constructors battle
    2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Leclerc lets Perez past in bid to beat Mercedes in the constructors battle

    Max Verstappen – Winner

    When exceptional is expected, it’s hard to know what to say about Verstappen after a Grand Prix. Once again he proved why he has decimated the field this season with another blistering performance.

    For me, Laps 2-58 were standard F1 2023 for Verstappen – but Lap 1 proved once again that his killer instinct is as sharp as ever. Twice it looked as though Leclerc had the jump on him going into a corner, and twice he broke so late and ran the outside to great effect and keep the Ferrari behind.

    READ MORE: ‘Emotional’ Verstappen praises Red Bull for ‘incredible season’ after scoring 19th win of the year in Abu Dhabi

    It may have been a clinical 17+ second victory from there, but those flashes of wheel-to-wheel action get me excited to see what future races bring when the other teams provide their drivers the car with which to fight at the front more regularly.

    Either way, it was a fitting way for the three-time champ to end a record setting season. He was – he is – simply spectacular.

    ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and
    Your 2023 champion Max Verstappen

    To read on, sign up to F1 Unlocked for free

    You'll unlock this article and get access to:

    Free Wall_Article.png