ABU DHABI – A year after one of the most controversial finishes in the history of Formula One, Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was anything but.
Max Verstappen, as usual this season, was far ahead of the rest on his way to a record-extending 15th win of the season.
“Incredible to win again here, 15th win of the season is unbelievable,” Verstappen said. “It’s been really enjoyable to work with the whole team and to be able to achieve something like this this year.”
At the track where he beat Lewis Hamilton last year — after a restart call that is still hotly disputed to this day —Verstappen held off his teammate Sergio Perez at the start and didn't face a serious challenge after that in the season-ending race.
Instead, much of the attention was on retiring four-time champion Sebastian Vettel battling in the midfield pack in his final race, while a hydraulic problem ended Lewis Hamilton’s race for Mercedes as the seven-time champion finished an F1 season without a win for the first time in his career.
“I am very pleased it is over and done with,” Hamilton said. “I gave it everything, but ultimately the last race was like my whole season. It summed up my year.”
There was potential for a fight for second place on track and in the championship standings, but little real drama.
Perez and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc came into the race equal on points, just like Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton did last year. Leclerc got past Perez by opting for one less pit stop and managed his old tires so that Perez couldn't get close enough to try an overtake.
That thwarted Red Bull's bid to have its drivers place first and second, as Leclerc finished three points ahead of Perez in the standings. It meant Verstappen’s refusal to yield sixth place to his teammate at the last race in Brazil — which left Red Bull facing questions over an apparent rift in the team and was followed by a wave of abusive comments on social media aimed at Verstappen and his family — turned out not to be decisive at the end of the season.
“I knew the only possibility to beat Checo (Perez) today was with a different strategy and playing with the tire management, which we did really well today,” Leclerc said. “I really hope next year we can do a step forward to fight for the championship.”
Leclerc and Ferrari seemed able to challenge Verstappen for the title at the start of the season, but Red Bull improved its car performance advantage through the season. Errors on track from Leclerc and in Ferrari's race strategy held them back too.
Carlos Sainz was fourth in the other Ferrari, while George Russell was fifth despite a five-second penalty when the Mercedes team released him from a pit stop into the path of another car. Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren, ahead of Alpine's Esteban Ocon, Aston Martin's Lance Stroll and Norris' teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who is without a race contract for 2023 and is likely to be Red Bull's reserve driver next year.
Vettel placed 10th for Aston Martin as he retires from F1 after 16 years.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports