Dominant Verstappen wins season finale in Abu Dhabi

That promoted George Russell to third for Mercedes and, with Lewis Hamilton securing two points for ninth place, that was enough to keep Mercedes in second place by three points.

Leclerc’s strategy had been to let Perez by in the hope that Mexican, on fresher tyres, could build enough of a lead to negate his penalty, imposed for a collision with McLaren’s Lando Norris.

But Perez did not quite make it, and he dropped down to be classified 1.1 seconds behind Russell.

Leclerc could have chosen to back right off on the last lap and delay Russell further in the hope that could make the difference, but continued to drive at his pace.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: “At the end, he could have pulled the handbrake on in the last sector and I think that shows the character of a driver.”

The scant consolation for Leclerc was that he vaulted both Norris and his team-mate Carlos Sainz to take fifth in the drivers’ championship behind Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

But Leclerc had said before the race that he did not care about that – and his face betrayed as much whilst he waited for the post-race interviews, his disappointment at the constructors’ result plain to see.

Norris was fifth ahead of team-mate Oscar Piastri, with Alonso seventh ahead of Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Hamilton and the second Aston Martin of Lance Stroll.

Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing poses for a photo with his team in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Verstappen’s incredible season

Russell said he was delighted to secure the position for Mercedes. “It means a lot to everyone back at the factory after a difficult season,” he said. “I am really happy to sure second.”

Leclerc said: “Checo had a five-second penalty so we had to help him to finish in front of George, so I tried to give him the DRS and slipstream but unfortunately it was not enough.”

He said he was happy Ferrari had been the second fastest car in Abu Dhabi, disappointed to lose out on second in the championship but proud of the team for recovering strongly after they started the season with a difficult car.

Verstappen said: “An incredible season. I was a little emotional on the in-lap – it is the last time I am sitting in the car which has given me a lot.

“I am proud to win the last race. It was an incredible year. It will be hard to do something similar again.

“We are working hard again to have a very competitive car. The other teams will be trying to beat us but we are ready for the challenge.”

It had been known since Brazil two races ago that Verstappen would finish the season with a better win percentage than the previous record of 75% set by Alberto Ascari in 1952.

But to beat that by more than 10% underlines the scale of his achievement this year. (BBC Sport)