Dre’s Race Review: F1’s Abu Dhabi 2023 Grand Prix

Max Verstappen closes the book on the greatest individual season in F1 history. Dre tiredly reviews the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

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Read time: 7 mins

“Fin.”

And that was that. The 2023 Formula 1 Season came to an end not with a bang, but with one last Max Verstappen dick flattening. Like with a lot of the 2023 season, the real fun came from behind as Charles Leclerc had to deal with a resurgent George Russell and Sergio Perez as Mercedes and Ferrari had to step up in different ways for their fight for second in the Constructors, and Yuki Tsunoda got his first driver of the day honours as AlphaTauri made one last lunge for seventh. 

Let’s get into this, one last time. 

But first, I have to mention how weird this weekend felt. Vegas was draining physically because of its incredibly awkward timing and chaotic weekend. Following that up with an 8,000km round trip to Abu Dhabi in a back-to-back in what’s been a “23” race weekend for many (Most of the travelling circus still went to Imola even if there was no race), it felt like a ghost town had hit Abu Dhabi. We’re all just knackered. I felt numb towards this weekend for that very reason.

The biggest story heading into the weekend was Christian Horner’s continued shit-stirring regarding Lewis Hamilton and allegations from Ginger Spice’s husband that Lewis Hamilton’s camp reached out to him for a job at the start of the season via an interview with the. Hamilton denied the story on Thursday, only for Horner to reveal that Anthony Hamilton (Lewis’ Dad) was the one to talk… who hasn’t been a part of Hamilton’s crew for years. He’s better known for being Paul Di Resta’s manager in recent F1 history than any Lewis association. 

But as I’ve always said, Christian has no problem exhibiting “main character energy” and being a wind-up merchant. He purposely leans into it and then awkwardly backtracks when people call him out as the antagonist he is. This is weird for a guy running Formula 1’s best team and closing the book on the greatest F1 season ever but attention is something the desperate crave.

And as this season comes to an end, an even more daunting one awaits. 2024 starts in February with FP1 falling on the famous leap year day of the 29th. 24 races, likely all happening this time with China no longer following a zero-covid policy. A season that finishes in the second week of December. The grouping of certain races in terms of travel has improved somewhat, but we still have a Vegas/Qatar leg as two-thirds of a triple header, three triple-headers in general and six races in seven weeks to close out the year. I know, it’s never going to decrease because as a sport, the easiest money earner is having more races, but as I’ve stressed before, there’s got to be a biting point here soon.

I don’t envy anyone on that paddock following life for 2024. It’s going to be a bastard. Even more so if the headline story of a weekend was Christian Horner’s phonebook from eight months ago.

The exclamation point on the greatest season in F1 history for Red Bull Racing. They looked a little ropey on the setup of their suspension going into Saturday morning but they hit their stride in Qualifying, Max got his 12th pole of the year and won from there comfortably once they were able to stretch their legs on the hard tyre. Max was 12 for 12 this season when he started from pole. (Hell, he’s even won from all five of Charles Leclerc’s too.)

I have to mention the fun fight behind the podium. Charles Leclerc drove another excellent race for Ferrari, I don’t think there was any more left on the table. I’ll talk about it more in Season Review content coming soon, but I think Charles deserved to beat Sainz in the standings for how well and consistent he’s been in closing the year out, and he was very clever in how he played out the end in his fight with Mercedes for second overall.

With a handful of laps left, and Sergio Perez running third but with a five-second time penalty for a debatable collision with Lando Norris. Charles let Perez through and tried to back the wagon up so Perez could get far enough in front so that his time penalty wouldn’t affect his finishing position. It was clever, but it didn’t quite work. It was almost like Charles was half-hearted to go all the way through with it like Perez did when he backed up Hamilton during Abu Dhabi 2021. Perez only finished 3.9 seconds ahead, so dropped to fourth after the flag and with Russell third and Hamilton ninth, Mercs clung to second in the Championship by just three points. 

But again, this has been Max’s backyard. This was his fourth straight win in Abu Dhabi, the first time he’s gone to a location and won there four years running. It was another dominant showing that’s put the cherry on top of what is for me, the greatest F1 season a driver has ever had. Here are the stats that leap off the page to me:

Almost everything in that block above, are new F1 records. The only season I can remember that even comes close is Michael Schumacher’s 2002, where he started the year in the 2001 car, finished every race on the podium, and won the Championship six rounds early in Magny Cours. And even then, I’d argue that Max doing what he did over 22 rounds is even more impressive than Michael did over 17. 

And for Red Bull as a team, 21 wins out of 22 is a phenomenal achievement. Beyond just the winning and Adrian Newey’s genius, Hannah Schmitz and the strategy department were virtually perfect all year, the pit crew was exceptional too, with only McLaren really keeping pace in the back half of the year. But in terms of overall operational excellence, for me, this is the greatest season ever. Red Bull is now the gold standard. Call it boring if you like, but that’s sport for you. And it’s up to the rest of the field to close that gap.

Hell of an effort from Yuki Tsunoda (who clearly loves Abu Dhabi) to finish 8th, win Driver of the Day and very nearly have AlphaTauri steal seventh in the standings. Don’t care about the quality of the opposition, he’s been this team’s leader when needed, despite a couple of wobbles. And a salute to Franz Tost in his final race as team principal, one of the sport’s great journeymen who had a hand in the development of many brilliant drivers. Laurent Meikes has a tough job in store. 

I really like James Vowles and he’s done an exceptional job of getting Williams a 7th place Constructor’s finish, but I’m starting to sour on his treatment of Logan Sargeant. He implied on the radio at the end of his season that he’d have many more winters to come with the team, but then walked it back on social media when asked about his future. On any level, if someone’s got fragile job security, it’s not right on any level to be messing about with that in public. It reminded me of when driver turned broadcaster and journalist Joylon Palmer, found out he was sacked at Renault via a media leak to Autosport. That’s shitty treatment no matter how you slice it. Vowles has a great way with words, and he needs to be careful how he uses them. 

Sergio Perez’s penalty was… harsh, in my opinion. Yes, there was contact, but Perez clearly makes the corner and I generally lean towards the notion of “rubbin’ is racing”. But the fact I can’t say that for sure is exactly why there’s so much frustration within Motorsport officiating. And look, I’m thoroughly in the camp of not taking it out on said officials (Football has this problem in spades right now), but it’s easy to sympathise with Checo’s frustration at the end of the race when a clear podium was taken off him. On the other hand, telling the stewards they’re not “F1 Standard”, doesn’t solve anything. 

Congratulations to Theo Pourchaire on becoming the F2 Champion after an excellent title fight with Frederick Vesti and Ayumu Iwasa. I just can’t help but be frustrated at the fact that this will be the third year running a graduate won’t be heading to F1 immediately. I’ve beat this drum in the Ask Dre inbox before, but the sport’s been dealing with the clusterfuck of having half its grid be filled out with genuinely excellent drivers from 2016 until now and it’s going to have this problem for a good few years yet. 

Say what you will about Pourchaire and Felipe Drugovich’s junior careers, but Oscar Piastri did everything right on the path to F1 and he still sat on the pine for a year because he felt his best shot at F1 was waiting to see if Esteban Ocon or Fernando Alonso was moving on. That’s the state of the ladder, and it’s no wonder we’re seeing more junior drivers defect to IndyCar. And remember, both Fred Vasseur and Andreas Seidl decided that Zhou Guanyu was better for business instead. Hmm.

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Leader of a Broadcast Journalism University project that went WAY out of hand. Even managed to parlay it into a WTF1 gig for a little while.

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