Verstappen smashes more records with 19th season win in Abu Dhabi

Victory from start-to-finish also sees the now three-times champion become the first driver in F1 history to lead 1 000 race laps.


Max Verstappen completed a record-breaking season in familiar style on Sunday when he cruised to a record-increasing 19th win of the year for Red Bull at an action-packed Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The three-time world champion came home 17.993 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc whose bold drive was not enough for the Italian team to claim the runners-up place in the constructors’ championship.

That went to Mercedes by just three points as although Sergio Perez came home second behind Verstappen on the road he was relegated to fourth with a five-second penalty, for a mid-race clash with McLaren’s Lando Norris, which promoted George Russell to third.

Norris was fifth ahead of his McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes.

Verstappen ended the season as the only driver to complete every lap of the season, more than 1 000 laps led, and also broke Jim Clark’s 1963 record for the highest percentage of laps led in a season.

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“An incredible season,” said Verstappen, who also paid tribute to retirement-bound AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost who nurtured his early F1 career. “I felt quite emotional on the in-lap as it’s the last time in this car that has given me such a lot.

Russell said: “It was really tense at the end as the tyres were dropping off, but it’s a massive relief to bring the car home P3. It means a huge amount to so many people back at the factory.”

Leclerc, who slowed to allow Perez to pass him in the closing laps, said: “He had a penalty and we had to help him finish in front of George with the five seconds… but, unfortunately, it wasn’t enough… It’s a shame we finished third.”

The race began in hot conditions and the track cooling rapidly as the sun went down and the floodlights blazed on the Yas Marina Circuit. The top 12 cars started on medium compound tyres.

The Dutchman led from pole and fended off three early challenges from Leclerc to open up a one second lead before Drag Reduction System (DRS) was enabled on lap three when Perez swept inside Hamilton for ninth and Norris passed Piastri for third, having already passed Russell.

As the leaders all pitted for hards, Yuki Tsunoda took over on lap 18, giving AlphaTauri and Tost a memorable moment, only the second time a Japanese driver had led a Formula One race.

He stayed there as Verstappen weaved his way back to the front, finally taking control again on lap 23 when Tsunoda pitted, returning in 12th behind Hamilton, who survived an early bump into the rear of Pierre Gasly’s Alpine with front wing damage.

By lap 30, it was a familiar story. Verstappen led Leclerc by 6.5 seconds with Russell 2.1 behind in third and Norris fourth. Hamilton was eighth and Sainz 14th.

As the second stops began, Norris pitted again on lap 34, taking fresh hards. He re-joined 10th. Mercedes responded, bringing Russell in – and he came out in P9 while Hamilton battled Alonso for ninth and Sainz, on an aggressive strategy, rose to eighth.

As it stood, it was advantage Ferrari again while, at the front, Verstappen came in again on lap 44, retaining his lead to emerge with a 15-lap cruise to the flag before Hamilton passed Sainz for ninth with 10 laps to go.

It was advantage Mercedes again, but when Russell was passed by Perez, for third, the ‘silver arrows’ hopes hung on the five-second penalty the Mexican was given for an earlier clash with Norris as the flag came out for Verstappen.

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