Max Verstappen has admitted he had to be more gentle during the first stint of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as the Red Bull driver went to take his 19th win of the Formula 1 season.
Despite securing his 12th pole position of 2023, Verstappen came into Sunday’s race on the back foot after being unable to complete long runs in any of the three free practice sessions.
Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc battled fearlessly on Lap 1 before the triple world champion pulled ahead, but didn’t disappear into the distance as he looked to preserve his tyres during the first stint.
Following his first pit stop on Lap 17, Verstappen fell to seventh but regained the lead on Lap 22 and cruised to his 19th win of 2023 by over 17 seconds from Leclerc and George Russell.
“It was, of course, a good race,” explained a calm Verstappen to the press. “The first stint, I didn’t really know what to expect because I didn’t do a long run.
“I probably took it a bit too easy in the beginning, but I guess that was better than trying to push ahead and destroy the tyres.
So, took a few laps, but then I think also the mediums were just not as good as expected, so then we had to pit because I saw everyone around me also pitting.
“With the hard tyres, everything felt a bit more normal, a bit more easy to manage with the temperatures and I could extend my lead lap after lap.
“It was pretty straightforward I think for not having done a long run, the car felt quite decent out there.”
Reason behind Verstappen’s ruthless will to win
For Verstappen, his 2023 season was his most dominant yet, winning 19 races and leading over 1000 laps during a year, which saw him wrap up his third world title at October’s Qatar GP.
Despite wrapping up the title with five rounds to spare, Verstappen still relentlessly dominated, taking a clean sweep of the Americas leg of the world championship and Abu Dhabi.
The seeds behind Verstappen’s domination as a driver came from his early days in go-karting and the relentless pursuit of victory drummed into him by his father, former Benetton driver Jos, during his karting career.
“I do think that [it] is just how I grew up,” explained Verstappen, when asked how he kept himself motivated after winning the title with five races left.
“I can’t just come into a weekend not giving it all I [would] just get annoyed with myself, and I know that people around me get annoyed with me if I would be like that, so my mindset didn’t change after winning the championship.
“I come to the race weekends, and I always try to do the best I can, and it’s nice winning is great. Why would I not want to win? When I see that there is an opportunity to win, I will always try to do the best I can and also for the team.
“When you have such a good car, you want to try and extend certain records and do well.”