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The Hindu
The Hindu

F1 champion Max Verstappen wins Abu Dhabi GP for 19th win of record-breaking season; Leclerc finishes second

Max Verstappen's outstanding season ended with a comfortable victory at the Abu Dhabi on Sunday, earning the Formula One champion a record-extending 19th victory of the campaign and 54th overall to move into third on the all-time list.

Verstappen finished ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Mercedes driver George Russell, and also collected a bonus point for the fastest lap. His 54th career win moved him one ahead of former Red Bull great Sebastian Vettel, with only Michael Schumacher (91) and Lewis Hamilton (103) left ahead of him.

“What an incredible year,” Verstappen said after crossing the line. “It was a bit emotional on the in-lap.”

Red Bull won 21 of 22 races this season, with Sergio Perez claiming two wins.

“It will be very hard to have another season like this, we know that," Verstappen said. "We will see, we are working hard for next year to have a very competitive car.”

After winning two of the first four races, Perez fell quickly behind his star teammate.

“You’ve smashed it out of the park this year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Verstappen on the radio. “We’re all incredibly proud of you.”

Perez crossed the line in second place but dropped to fourth because of a five-second time penalty following an incident with McLaren's Lando Norris late on.

Leclerc let Perez go past him on the final lap in the hope that Perez would finish more than five seconds ahead of Russell, with Mercedes and Ferrari both fighting for second place in the constructors' championship.

With Russell's teammate Hamilton finishing ninth for two points and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. out of the points, Mercedes clinched second behind Red Bull in the constructors' table.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” said Leclerc, after his third podium in the past four races. “It's just a shame we finished third in constructors, that’s all that mattered to me, we didn’t achieve that but I want to thank the team for doing such incredible work."

Mercedes beat Ferrari by just three points, and while Sainz is the only other driver to win a race this season — in Singapore two months ago — his failure to score in Abu Dhabi proved costly for Ferrari.

At the end, it was Russell who delivered.

“It means a huge amount, there’s so many people back at the factory who have worked so hard to achieve this, it’s been a really challenging season," Russell said after only his second podium this season. “I’ve let the side down a couple of times this year so I’m pleased to have brought it across the line today.”

Norris finished the race in fifth place ahead of his teammate Oscar Piastri, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in seventh. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Hamilton and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) completed the top 10.

Hamilton placed third in the standings but the seven-time F1 champion finished without a victory for a second straight year.

Verstappen started from pole position for the 12th time this season — more than twice as many as any other driver — with Leclerc alongside him and Piastri third.

The Yas Marina track is one of hardest to overtake on and Verstappen made a good start, holding off a couple of attacks by Leclerc.

Verstappen switched to hard tires on lap 17 of 58, followed by Leclerc on the next lap, leaving Tsunoda in the rare position of leading a race on team principal Franz Tost's last grand prix before retiring.

Verstappen regained the lead a few laps later and was never troubled.

Perez was given a penalty for bumping tires with Norris, although it appeared that Norris had enough space and turned into Perez's front right tire.

“Why are we given this penalty? I was ahead," a bemused Perez said on team radio.

Perez was second overall this season to give Red Bull a 1-2, but the veteran Mexican driver finished a mammoth 290 points behind Verstappen.

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