As meaningless season finales go, the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was far from the worst – with jeopardy over the remaining championship battles right up until the chequered flag.
It was still another stroll to victory for Max Verstappen, who capped a superlative 2023 that might even have broken the record for the most broken records in an F1 season – or in anything short of a Hard Rock Cafe rage room.
Behind him was the usual bun fight between Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Alonso and Perez, but who were the winners and losers?
One unofficial member of the latter camp was any mention in commentary that it’s less than 100 days until the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix – equivalent to your boss telling you that you’ll be back at work in seven days just as you go on annual leave for a well-earned summer holiday.
And did you know this is the first season since 1952 that the British national anthem hasn’t been played on an F1 podium? Not sure that stat was rammed down anyone’s throat enough over the weekend either.
Loser: Lando Norris
It’s easy to forget how impressive Lando Norris‘ 2023 season has been. Since the Austrian GP he’s the highest-scoring F1 driver not named Max Verstappen and Norris has recorded the most second-places over the year too – even more than Sergio Perez.
However, he couldn’t quite complete that comeback with fourth in the championship, falling to Perez for fourth in the final stages despite a valiant fight. Norris once again outperformed Oscar Piastri on raceday too despite starting two positions back.
The final overtakes of the 2023 season mean he finishes sixth in the drivers’ championship, but just a single point away from a fourth place that would’ve been his career-best.
Winner: Charles Leclerc
It would’ve been some sweet justice if Charles Leclerc had fallen into fourth in the drivers’ standings after spending his whole race trying to drag a Carlos Sainzless Ferrari kicking and screaming to constructors’ runners-up.
Ultimately they came up just short, but Leclerc still capped a brilliant final four races of the season – the only time he’s missed out on the podium was his DNS at the 2023 Brazilian GP.
After a strong qualifying, Leclerc couldn’t quite outbattle Verstappen on the first lap, but showed stellar pace to run a clear second for the rest of the race aside from his cheeky attempt to fire Perez into third late on.
It means he finishes as lead Ferrari in the championship and just misses out on fourth to Fernando Alonso, tied on points and second places but falling on the second tie-breaker of third-place finishes.
Winner: George Russell
It’s easy to forget George Russell had picked up just one podium all year before Abu Dhabi as he failed to back up a brilliant first season at Mercedes.
It’s arguably the first backward step for Russell since 2016 when he could only improve from sixth to third in his second season of European F3 though, so don’t sound the alarm bells just yet – and he finished so strongly here.
With Lewis Hamilton out of the picture for the second successive weekend, Russell was at his clinical best to (cleanly) dispatch the McLarens early and once again looked at home in the upgraded W14 with strong race pace that allowed him to finished within range of Perez and secure second place for Mercedes.
Loser: Carlos Sainz
Sainz has looked miserable since that Las Vegas manhole cover derailed both his and Ferrari‘s championship aspirations.
And he looked off the pace right from FP1 in Abu Dhabi when he finished just 0.027 seconds ahead of stand-in Robert Shwartzman. It only got worse on Friday evening when Sainz suffered a heavy crash in FP2, before he was eliminated in Q1, failing to find much improvement on his final run of the session.
Despite all of that, it’s hard to believe he couldn’t have finished ninth with a standard strategy to secure Ferrari‘s victory over Mercedes – and somewhat of a damning indictment if that is the case.
Winner: Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso entered the weekend in joint-fourth, but looked the least likely driver to claim it in the four-way battle given he’s been looking over his shoulder in the championship for almost four or five months.
However, he navigated the slaughterhouse that was qualifying at sunset in Abu Dhabi very well to place his Aston Martin seventh, then beat his own expectations by finishing ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz.
The AMR23 was better in race trim and he benefitted from AlphaTauri‘s one-stop shot-to-nothing with Yuki Tsunoda, and the Norris–Perez situation too. Still, Alonso deserved a bit of good fortune after scoring almost 75% of Aston Martin‘s points in 2023.
He was also a big winner off the track too. As Aston Martin continue to deal with second-half-of-the-season syndrome, Alonso was exceedingly effusive at every media opportunity and made it clear that the 2023 season has still been overwhelmingly positive.
Not the ending Franz Tost wanted, but after all the emotional tributes and Yuki Tsunoda becoming the second Japanese driver to lead an F1, his slide down the order to eighth meant AlphaTauri couldn’t quite overhaul Williams in the constructors’ championship.
They gambled on the wrong strategy when they arguably didn’t need to, while Daniel Ricciardo finished a frustrating six-tenths away from the points too.
It’s the end of the road for AlphaTauri, a thoroughly uninspired brand that’s apparently set to be replaced with an even worse identity as the Racing Bulls.
Toro Rosso was a special throwback to a bygone age in F1, people could identify with them as a plucky underdog and they’d had some of the sport’s biggest icons pass through their doors.
The takeover rumours betrayed that Toro Rosso almost did their job too well, supplying Max Verstappen as Red Bull‘s ultimate champion they mightn’t need to replace for two decades, so there’s not really a clear purpose for future junior drivers in Faenza.
Aside from Pierre Gasly‘s fairytale victory at the 2020 Italian GP, the AlphaTauri years have been an utterly forgettable era for one of F1‘s more storied teams, though at least Tost was paid his dues by the greatest of them all this season at the end in Abu Dhabi.
“And thank you to Franz Tost. He has had lots of us under his wings and it is his last race – so thank you to Franz.”Max Verstappen”s team radio after winning the 2023 Abu Dhabi
Loser: Alfa Romeo
Another historic team that’s closing the book on a thoroughly bland chapter, Alfa Romeo–Sauber‘s lifeless parternsup ended with a double-Q1 elimination and finishes of 17th and 19th for Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas.
Aside from Bottas‘ snazzy helmet designs every other weekend you could be forgiven for forgetting they were even competing at most races this season and it was more of the same in Abu Dhabi.
Notwithstanding Antonio Giovinazzi memes, the Swiss outfit hasn’t been relevant since Charles Leclerc‘s stellar debut year in 2018, and they’ve failed to carve out any noticeable identity for themselves. It’s not a team that punches above its weight thanks to savvy veterans discarded by other teams, nor one with the most exciting talent coming through.
The only saving grace is Audi‘s arrival in 2026, but that’s clearly not given Sauber too much emergency meanwhile, with Bottas and Zhou returning next season to form the weakest driver pairing on the grid.
Winner: Max Verstappen
What more can be said about Verstappen‘s 2023 season? He is inevitable.