It's been an incredible season, says Verstappen after 19th win in Abu Dhabi

On Sunday, he became the first driver to complete a season having led more than 1,000 laps

By AFP

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Red Bull's Max Verstappen shakes hands with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem on the podium. — Reuters
Red Bull's Max Verstappen shakes hands with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem on the podium. — Reuters

Published: Sun 26 Nov 2023, 10:20 PM

It was a measure of Max Verstappen's spare capacity in a season of record-breaking success that the first person he mentioned on Sunday after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a retirement-bound F1 veteran team boss, Franz Tost.

After 18 years as the head of Red Bull's junior team, an operation that has been a conveyor belt of talent for the Milton Keynes-based outfit and others, Tost was on the Alpha Tauri pit wall for the final time.

"Thank you to everyone," said Verstappen on his in-lap after his record 19th win of the season and the 54th of his career. "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."

Verstappen's progress from 'Mad Max' in his early days of impetuous aggression through his determined arrival as a serial champion, following his controversial 2021 triumph at the Yes Marina Circuit, to his latest role as a record-breaking winning machine has been unstoppable.

On Sunday, he became the first driver to complete a season having led more than 1,000 laps - 1,003 of the 1,325 available - to deliver a percentage rate of 75.70 per cent, a feat that surpassed the 60-year-record of two-time champion Jim Clark, who led 506 of 708 laps at a rate of 71.47 in 1963.

Max Verstappen on his way to winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. — Photo by Neeraj Murali
Max Verstappen on his way to winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. — Photo by Neeraj Murali

"It's been an incredible season," he said. "It was a bit emotional on the in-lap, the last time sitting in the car which has, of course, given me such a lot. And I am very proud to win here in the last race and I have to say a big thank you to everyone at Red Bull. It's been an incredible year -- it will be hard to do something similar again.

"We know that, of course. You always want to do better but sometimes doing better is not only race wins and potentially winning the championship. We will see! We're working hard for next year to have again a very competitive car."

As he began his celebrations, Formula One's records were being revised again - he is the youngest driver to score points, the youngest race leader, youngest winner, youngest to record a fastest lap and the youngest to score a 'grand slam' of pole, victory and fastest race lap.

Dutch fans cheer for Max Verstappen at the Yas Marina Circuit. — Photo by Neeraj Murali
Dutch fans cheer for Max Verstappen at the Yas Marina Circuit. — Photo by Neeraj Murali

And he also holds records for most podiums in a season (21), most wins (19), most points (575) and most consecutive wins (10).

Without question, his triumphant 2023 season was the most dominant by any driver in F1 history, having won more than 86 per cent of the races. He was beaten only three times in 22 races -- twice by team-mate Sergio Perez and once by Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, in Singapore, where Red Bull experienced a rare off-day.

A spectacular air show marked the start of the Abu Dhabi GP on Sunday. — Photo by Neeraj Murali
A spectacular air show marked the start of the Abu Dhabi GP on Sunday. — Photo by Neeraj Murali

His advantage in points ahead of Perez in the drivers' championship, at the end of the season was 290 points - more points than the Mexican accumulated over the 22 races, 285, to secure second place in the title race ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, 234.

The Briton, who finished ninth to score two important points that ensured Mercedes retained second place ahead of Ferrari in the teams' title race by three points, praised Red Bull and Verstappen, but feared domination by the champions next year.

"It hasn't been a great year," admitted Hamilton, who will be 39 in January. "For Red Bull to win by 17 seconds in the end and they haven't developed their car since August... it's definitely a concern."


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