ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Following Max Verstappen’s victory on the streets of Las Vegas, the Formula 1 calendar moves to its final stop in 2023, the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The long and winding road of the 2023 F1 calendar finally heads to the finish line as the final available positions in both the World Drivers Championship and the World Constructors Championship are up for grabs.
To keep up with the regulations in two Free Practice 1 sessions in the season, a young driver, someone who has started no more than two Grand Prix, must participate in a session, as 10 young drivers participated in the first practice ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. They were as follows:
Red Bull Racing decided to sit both Verstappen and Sergio Perez in favor of Formula E 2023 World Drivers Champion Jake Dennis and Isack Hadjar.
Ferrari put in reserve driver Robert Shwartzman in place of Charles Leclerc.
At Mercedes, Frederik Vesti participated in the practice session instead of Lewis Hamilton.
Alpine called upon Jack Doohan to take Esteban Ocon’s spot in the first practice.
For McLaren, INDYCAR star Pato O’Ward took over for Lando Norris.
Haas called upon Oliver Bearman to take a turn around the track in place of Nico Hulkenberg.
Formula 2 points leader Theo Pourchaire took over for Zhou Guanyu in the Alfa Romeo.
Aston Martin reserve driver Felipe Drugovich took over Fernando Alonso’s seat for the second time this year in a practice.
Alex Albon’s Williams seat was for Zak O’Sullivan during the first practice.
With half of the field watching their cars take to the track with rookies, the first practice went off relatively quietly. George Russell brought his Mercedes to the top of the timing sheets for the fastest time in the opening practice, with a shocking second-quickest time coming from the Aston Martin rookie of Drugovich ahead of the AlphaTauri of Daniel Ricciardo, the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas and the other Aston Martin of Lance Stroll closing out the top five.
Next came the second practice and more of a chance to start dialing down set-ups for the weekend, as all 20 drivers were on the track for the first time all weekend. However, it wasn’t as clean as the first practice. Barely 10 minutes into the session, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz ran into an issue. He slid into the barriers at Turn 3, damaging his car and suspending the session. Not long after the session resumed, the Haas of Hulkenberg was sitting next to the wall on the exit of Turn 2, resulting in the second red flag of the session.
Leclerc and Ferrari grabbed the fastest time of the incident-filled first session, with Norris bringing his McLaren to the second quickest time. Behind him came the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez, sandwiched by an impressively quick Bottas in his Alfa Romeo. Teams then looked toward a hopefully cleaner final practice to gather the last data needed before qualifying and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Teams were ready for the final chance to nail down setups in the final practice at Yas Marina ahead of qualifying, especially after the red flags trimmed down how much track time teams had the day prior. Russell again had his Mercedes at the top of the timing sheets by the end of the final practice, ahead of both McLarens, who had just locked down an engine deal with Mercedes until 2030, of Norris and Oscar Piastri showing signs of making a competitive effort. The Williams of Albon made a surprise entrance into the top five of the timing sheets as he slotted in ahead of Leclerc’s Ferrari.
Meanwhile, it looked as if Red Bull was on a bit of the backfoot as both Verstappen and Perez struggled with their set-ups before qualifying.
As the first qualifying round began, Verstappen and Red Bull hoped to shake off their struggles during the practices. They immediately went to the top of the timing sheets to lead the opening practice. Like many other sessions through the year, track limits once again highlighted the headlines of qualifying as drivers such as Logan Sargeant, Hulkenberg and Guanyu lost their initial times due to exceeding track limits.
Ferrari’s Sainz weekend continued not to turn around as he lamented traffic, keeping him from making it through the first qualifying round. He was joined by Sargeant, who had more track limits issues on his second run, the Alfa Romeo duo of Bottas and Guanyu and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
At the start of the second round, Verstappen picked up right where he left off at the top of the timing charts as the McLaren of Norris loomed not far behind. Making a shock exit in the second round was the Mercedes of Hamilton, who was joined by the AlphaTauri of Ricciardo joined, along with the Williams of Albon, Aston Martin of Stroll and the Alpine of Ocon.
All eyes turned to the final round of qualifying for the last time in 2023. Like many other times in 2023, Max Verstappen set the pace ahead of Norris, Piastri, Russell and Perez. With the speed of the McLaren, it looked like it would once again be a battle for the pole between Norris and Verstappen.
During their second runs, Norris went sliding along in Turns 13 and 14, and although he didn’t spin out, his hopes for being able to contend for the pole were dashed, even when the second run for Verstappen didn’t improve his time. Leclerc, who showed struggles in his first run, crossed the line and solidified second, lining up alongside Verstappen on Sunday with Piastri holding onto the third fastest time. Russell’s Mercedes slotted into fourth ahead of Norris.
Rounding out the top 10 for the starting grid for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri is starting sixth, ahead of Alonso’s Aston Martin and Hulkenberg’s Haas. Meanwhile, Perez lost his second attempt in the final round after he exceeded track limits, relegating his Red Bull to ninth. Pierre Gasly wrapped up the top 10 in his Alpine.
With the grid set, attention now turns to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the final race of the 2023 season. Although the WDC and WCC are set, there are still spots up for grabs, including Ferrari grabbing second in the Constructors Championship from Mercedes and McLaren holding onto fourth, even after their horrid start to 2023.