The 2023 Formula 1 season finally ended in Abu Dhabi with Max Verstappen easing to his nineteenth win from twenty-two races. Verstappen, one of only three race winners all season, finally put the F1 fanbase out of our misery when the chequered flag fell. Another of this year’s winners was the object of much criticism, and no – it wasn’t Sergio Perez!
Carlos Sainz Jr. wins Reject of the Race in Abu Dhabi!
Carlos Sainz Jr. getting knocked out of Q1 was probably the biggest and most important shock of the whole grand prix weekend. It also hid how close Perez himself was to facing the same fate. Sainz, having crashed in practice, got little or no running in before the first session in anger when FP1 was dedicated to running junior drivers for most teams (including Ferrari).
On the front row, teammate Charles Leclerc therefore bore the brunt of the pressure: Ferrari, four points behind Mercedes in the championship, would need the Monegasque driver to keep his cool under pressure from Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. One blessing had come when Hamilton was knocked out in Q2 for the second consecutive race, but sadly for the scarlet horses, Russell had just about his best weekend of the year.
Leclerc very nearly took the lead on the opening lap and kept Max at least a little honest in the first half of the race. Russell had some trouble overtaking Oscar Piastri while Hamilton bumped the back of Pierre Gasly’s Alpine. With the Ferrari-Mercedes duel the only remaining fight of interest, where was Sainz?
The answer was that he was nowhere. He had gone for a long stint on the hard tyres, which yielded him almost no reward, and at best he was scraping the bottom of the points. As the strategy turned out to be failing him, Sainz was overtaken left right and centre, while Perez was dashing up the field to start irritating Leclerc, and Hamilton likewise was making his way to the middle of the points positions.
A few laps from the end, far from the points, Sainz retired the car in the garage. Leclerc allowed Perez (with a penalty) through that he might finish between himself and Russell. This failed, and Ferrari conceded runner-up to Mercedes. For his pivotal role in that defeat, Carlos earns our Reject of the Race award in Abu Dhabi.
The race itself deserves a mention, firstly for being its usual boring self, and secondly for ending what has been an incredibly monotonous season of Verstappen walkovers and stale results in the most predictable way possible. The mood was prevalent that Abu Dhabi itself has been a dull track with next to no memorable races in fifteen seasons, and 2023 continued that trend.
Also eager to see the season to its end were David Croft and Martin Brundle, the ever-present (because we can’t get rid of them) commentary duo for Sky. After “Verstappens in Vegas stays in Vegas” at the previous round, Croft’s latest eye-rolling comment was “there’s no Verstoppin’ Verstappen”. It’s been clear for a while that Brundle checked out years ago, and Abu Dhabi was another race where the two of them sounded bored beyond belief when they weren’t telling their paying audience to pay for more things.
Yuki Tsuonda wins the Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race award for the fourth time in 2023 at Abu Dhabi!
After such a dull affair, there were slim pickings to choose from when identifying the positives from Abu Dhabi. Yuki Tsunoda was the obvious pick: sixth in qualifying, made his tyres last and became the second Japanese driver to lead a lap after Takuma Sato all the way back in 2004. Despite being stuck on the inferior one-stop strategy Yuki made it work and netted his joint-best finish of the year in 8th.
Otherwise, apathy set in. Russell, as previously mentioned, drove possibly his best race of the year, but there was little else to celebrate. Verstappen broke a record we dearly hope won’t be broken any time soon: 19 wins in 22 races (22 out of 26 if we include sprints). From the final 18 races, he won 17 of them. Even his “lesser” win streak after Singapore is still seven races, and with a successful start to 2024 he could extend the record yet again.
The Formula 1 paddock shudders in terror. See you next year.
|REJECT OF THE RACE
|INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE
|Carlos Sainz Jr.
|The 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
|Number of votes: 19
|Number of votes: 17
Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.
The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.
The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.
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