Verstappen ends the season in style


Admit it, in the aftermath of FP3 you thought, or rather you hoped, that Max was in for another Singapore.

Well, as we now know he has pole, and will start today's race ahead of Charles, Oscar, George, Lando and Yuki.

Qualifying continued in much the same vein as the previous sessions with no clear idea of the pecking order and a strange disparity between teammates. Hence, while Charles stars second his teammate starts 16th, with George seven spot ahead of his Mercedes teammate.

There is a similar situation at Red Bull, AlphaTauri, Aston Martin and Haas, which all, of course, adds to the fun.

Though both titles are long decided there remains the little matter of second in the team standings - and remember this is the one that decided the prize money - whilst Fernando will be keen to hold off Carlos, Lando and Charles for fourth in the drivers'.

We can also expect a good scrap for seventh in the team standings with Williams seeking to hold off an ever improving AlphaTauri, and in terms of that particular battle what a brilliant job Yuki did yesterday.

As he seeks to retain fourth, Fernando will recall that day here in 2010 when he failed to get past Vitaly Petrov and thereby lost out on a third title. No doubt the Spaniard will be seeking to emulate the Russian today and hold the pack at bay.

Of course, Max doesn't need to win but as we have seen with his pitlane antics - and that qualifying lap - he remains as remorseless as the Michael Schumachers of this sport and will be keen to score his 19th win of the season.

However, he will face intense pressure from Charles, Oscar, George and Lando who each have their own particular point to prove.

Expect the start to be every bit as aggressive as last week, with elbows firmly out.

Indeed with this being the last race of the season we can expect a little more argy-bargy than usual, especially in those skirmishes involving vital championship positions.

Lewis and Carlos both have to battle their way through the field so it will be fun to watch their progress.

The one remaining seat yet to be filled for next season is that at Williams alongside Alex, and in all honesty Logan has had his chance. We were always of the opinion that he was only signed up due to his nationality anyway, however the fact is that he is out of his depth. If Williams is to move further up the grid it needs another Alex, another charger capable of scoring points... that and an owner keen to restore the team to its former glory as opposed to looking to sell up for a nice price.

If Oscar can be on it right from the start there is no need to be making excuses for Logan after 21 races.

The decision taken by almost all the teams to save two sets of hards, demonstrates that the C3 is the favoured compound. On paper, a one-stop is quickest, with the medium for the first stint before switching to the aforementioned hard.

A two-stopper, with the sequence medium/hard/hard, is not that far off in terms of overall race time and could become a valid option especially if there is a neutralisation in the second part of the race.

It's hard to see the C5 coming into play, unless someone wants to gamble in the final stages on exploiting the soft's grip advantage over a used hard, with a lighter car."

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin to head out, Max leads the way, followed by Ricciardo, Piastri, Russell and Hulkenberg.

Air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 34 degrees. However, these will drop as the sun sets.

All are starting on mediums bar Stroll Sainz and Bottas who are on hards. Fresh rubber all round except for Stroll and the Williams pair.

They head off on the formation lap.

The grid forms.

They're away. Verstappen and Leclerc are side-by-side on the run to Turn 1, and while the Monegasque has the inside line the Dutchman has superior speed and holds him off. Piastri remains third while teammate Norris edges ahead of Russell.

Further back Hamilton runs wide as Alonso passes Tsunoda

On the back straight Leclerc is all over Verstappen and almost passes him into Turn 6 courtesy of the tow, but the Dutchman holds him off.

Behind Alonso and Tsunoda there is a gaggle of cars fighting for position, as Hamilton fends off the Alpines, Perez, Stroll and Hulkenberg.

At the end of Lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Leclerc, Piastri, Norris, Russell, Tsunoda, Alonso, Gasly, Hamilton and Perez. Sainz is 14th, while Albon has dropped to 18th.

As Verstappen pulls away from Leclerc, Piastri is under pressure from his McLaren teammate.

On Lap 3, Perez makes shot work of Hamilton for ninth. The Briton handing the place back after running wide in Turn 1 at the start.

Norris passes Piastri for third in a move that appeared to have been orchestrated.

Magnussen pits at the end of Lap 5 as Sainz passes Hulkenberg for 13th.

Ricciardo is the first driver to have a time deleted for exceeding the track limits.

As Piastri loses ground to his teammate he falls into the clutches of Russell. The Mercedes driver attacks but the Australian uses every inch of track to hold him off.

Ricciardo is warned that he may have a tear-off in his brake duct. He subsequently pits.

Piastri now leads a DRS train of 5 cars including Perez and Hamilton.

Sainz and both Williams drivers have times deleted.

Gasly is under attack from Perez and Hamilton as Russell attempts to go around the outside of Piastri in Turn 9.

On fresh rubber, Ricciardo posts a new fastest lap (29.815) as he seeks to close the gap to Sargeant.

Norris and Leclerc both have times deleted for exceeding the limits in Turn 1.

"This is good," Piastri is told, "defending well, tyre management good."

At which point the Australian locks-up and is subsequently passed by Russell.

"Right front is slowly getting a bit hurt," warns Verstappen as Tsunoda closes in on Piastri.

Perez finally gets by Gasly on the run to Turn 9 as Hamilton sizes up the Alpine driver.

Alonso pits at the end of Lap 12, the Spaniard switching to hards and rejoining in 18th.

Piastri and Hulkenberg both pit at the end of Lap 13, the Australian rejoining in 15th, 0.5s ahead of Alonso.

Next time around, Norris and Russell both pit, however it's a slow stop for the McLaren driver who rejoins in 14th just ahead of his teammate who is under intense pressure from Alonso.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Marina here.

"I've damaged my front wing, he locked-up ahead of me," says Hamilton after contact with Gasly.

Both subsequently pit, as does Sargeant. However, there is no wing change for the seven-time champ.

Russell passes Albon for tenth, as Verstappen pits.

As Russell posts a new fastest lap (29.537), Ocon is all over Hamilton.

Verstappen rejoins in seventh ass Hamilton warns: "I've definitely lost some front end".

Leclerc and Perez both pit at the end of Lap 17, thereby handing the lead to Tsunoda.

Leclerc rejoins in fifth and Perez 12th as Russell passes Bottas for sixth.

As Russell posts a new fastest lap (29.522), Gasly passes Hulkenberg for 15th.

Sainz is up to 4th, but like Tsunoda and Stroll ahead he has yet to pit. Bottas, in eighth, is the only driver still to stop.

"I don't get how you can undercut me with the other car," complains Gasly of his teammate. "Just concentrate on tyre management," he is told.

A new fastest lap from Perez (29.107).

"Sainz will let you by," Leclerc is told, the Monegasque subsequently passing his Ferrari teammate for fourth.

"Lewis, second quickest car last lap, you're quick," Tot Wolff tells his driver.

At the end of Lap 22, Tsunoda and Stroll both pit, the Japanese rejoining in 12th and the Canadian in 15th.

Hamilton passes Bottas for 10th, as Tsunoda also passes the Finn.

Verstappen has his timer deleted for exceeding the limits in Turn 1.

Sainz makes his second stop at the end of Lap 23, rejoining in 16th.

Verstappen now leads (again), ahead of Leclerc, Russell, Norris, Piastri, Alonso, Perez, Ricciardo, Hamilton and Tsunoda.

Alonso offers no resistance when Perez makes his move on Lap 25.

"Where are we losing, why are we so slow," asks Gasly. He is told that it is the result of the clash with Hamilton.

"Lewis, fastest car on track now," Wolff assures Hamilton. At which point Stroll posts a new fastest lap (28.860).

Sainz passes Hulkenberg for 15th.

At half-distance Bottas remains the only driver yet to pit, as Perez passes Piastri for 5th.

At the end of Lap 29 the Finn finally pits, switching to mediums he rejoins in 19th.

Sainz and Leclerc are the latest to have their times deleted.

Gasly makes his second stop at the end of Lap 32, rejoining in 18th behind Ricciardo, who stopped moments earlier.

Next time around Norris stops, the Briton, who had been struggling, rejoining in 10th. Hulkenberg also stops.

"You sure we can't make the one stop work, these tyres feel reasonable," says Russell, as he is ordered to "box". He rejoins in 9th, 0.6s ahead of Norris and 1s down on Stroll.

"This will be out lap critical," Russell is warned as Norris posts purples in the first two sectors.

Leclerc stops at the end of Lap 35, as does Hamilton. As Norris posts a new fastest laap (28.736), Leclerc rejoins in sixth and Hamilton 12th.

Russell passes Stroll for seventh.

"You can box Checo ahead of me if you want," urges Verstappen.

Piastri and Alonso both pit at the end of Lap 36, the McLaren driver rejoining in 10th and the Spaniard in 11th.

Norris finally passes Stroll, but Russell is already 2s up the road.

Hamilton passes Alonso for 11th.

On successive laps Albon has his times deleted for exceeding the limits in Turn 4.

"We have the slowest car on the straights... by far," moans Alonso despite retaking the position from Hamilton.

"He just brake tested me, he brake tested me, way before the zone," complains the seven-time champ.

Piastri locks-up allowing Sainz and Ocon to close in.

Alonso has been noted for driving erratically.

"How is Lewis getting on," asks Russell. "He's doing a good job at the moment, he is told, "he's having a fight of his own."

The Briton wants to know how the championship is going but he is told: "All we can do is have the best race, we're fine at the moment."

Alonso passes Ocon for tenth as Perez makes his second stop, as does Stroll.

The Mexican rejoins in sixth and Stroll in twelfth.

Norris passes Tsunoda for fourth as Verstappen makes his second stop at the end of Lap 43.

As the Dutchman rejoins still leading, 5.2s up on Leclerc, Hamilton has been noted for a pit stop infringement.

Perez passes Tsunoda for fifth as Albon makes his second stop of the evening.

"Downshifts are pushing a lot," says Verstappen as Alonso closes on Sainz.

A new fastest lap from Perez (27.493).

"We have two strikes for track limits" Leclerc is warned.

Despite having the slowest car on the straights, Alonso is giving Sainz a run for his money.

The Aston Martin driver finally passes the Ferrari going into Turn 9, and though Sainz tries to fight back the two-time world champion uses all his experience to hold him off.

Perez closes in on Norris, they touch as they enter Turn 6 and the McLaren misses the corner.

As Hamilton passes Sainz heading into Turn 9 - the Spaniard clearly struggling - Gasly is under investigation for a pit stop infringement.

"He crashed into me," complains Norris. "He turned into me," says Perez.

The incident is under investigation.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Marina here.

Elsewhere, Piastri passes Tsunoda for sixth.

Albon passes Hulkenberg for 15th.

After 50 laps of 58, it's: Verstappen, Leclerc (+ 8.5s), Russell (+ 3.2s), Perez (+ 3.4s), Norris (+ 2.6s), Piastri (+ 7.2s), Tsunoda (+ 2.3s), Alonso (+ 3.9s), Hamilton (+ 3.3s) and Sainz (+ 5.2s).

Perez is given a 5s time penalty for causing a collision. At this moment in time that would drop him from 4th to 6th.

The Mexican is not happy with his penalty feeling he did nothing wrong. Meanwhile, Sainz still needs to stop and use the second compound.

Perez closes on Russell and in no time at all he is past the Mercedes and up to third. Now he has to build a 5s advantage.

Stroll closes on Sainz who is finally told to pit, as teammate Alonso passes Tsunoda in Turn 9 for 7th.

Sainz rejoins in 14th as Leclerc asks the gap between Perez and Russell as he is willing to assist the Mexican extend his advantage over the Mercedes driver.

Indeed, the Ferrari driver allows the Red Bull through, thereby giving up second in order to help his team win the runner-up spot.

Verstappen takes the flag, ahead of Perez, Leclerc, Russell, Norris, Piastri, Alonso, Tsunoda, Hamilton and Stroll.

Ricciardo is eleventh, ahead of Ocon, Gasly, Albon, Hulkenberg, Sargeant, Zhou, Sainz, Bottas and Magnussen, though in fact the second Ferrari driver is classed as a DNF.

Hamilton passed Tsunoda on the final lap but the Japanese retook the position, while despite Leclerc's best efforts, Perez couldn't extend the gap over to Russell and therefore finishes fourth behind the Briton.

Told that Mercedes has claimed the runner-up spot, Leclerc isn't happy. "For f*** sake," he complains. When told he cannot do any donuts he is even less impressed. "For f*** sake," he says again, "not even this?"

"It means a huge amount," says Russell of helping secure the runner-up spot. "It's been a really challenging season, I've let the team down a couple of times this season, so it was nice to contribute.

"I thought Charles was going to back me up," he admits, "but credit to him for keeping it clean.

"It was really tense at the end, the tyres were dropping off. Massive relief to have brought the car home P3, can't believe it's only the second podium of the year."

"It was all in the last few minutes," says Leclerc, "with Checo's penalty we had to help him in a way so I tried to give him the DRS and slipstream, but it wasn't enough.

"There was nothing we could have done better, we did everything right... strategy, qualifying. It's all that mattered to me at the end, but we didn't achieve P2. But the team has done an incredible job pushing to the final race."

"It's been an incredible season," says Verstappen. "It's emotional on the in-lap, the last time sitting in the car that has given me a lot.

"It will be hard to do something similar again, but we definitely enjoyed this year. It will be so hard to have another season like this, we know that.

"We are working hard for next year to have a very competitive car and we'll be ready for the battle. But now we'll enjoy this as well."

Well there you have it, Verstappen and Red Bull end the season pretty much as they started, and while Mercedes must be content with runner-up, what a turn around its been for McLaren.

A great effort from Tsunoda who has really stepped up a gear since the arrival of Ricciardo, while it is clear there remains unrest at Alpine.

Though it wasn't a bad race, we still feel that the season should end on one the classic tracks like Interlagos, but in this new era of F1 money talks.

Indeed, as Sky broadcast that short clip of fans recalling their favourite bits of the season, as we looked at all those young boys and girls we couldn't help wonder where the other fans had got to, those men and women of a certain age, no doubt a glass of red in one hand while the other strokes the dog.

We are told it is 97 days until lights out in Bahrain... see you then.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Yas Marina here.

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Published: 26/11/2023
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