Max Verstappen was delighted to break his Bahrain Grand Prix hoodoo, but Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez is promising a tight Formula One title race in 2023.

The reigning world champion picked up his first career victory at the Bahrain International Circuit to kick off the new season where he left off last term.

Verstappen led a one-two ahead of teammate Perez, while Fernando Alonso came third on his Aston Martin debut.

Having failed to win on any of his previous visits to Bahrain with the team, the Dutchman acknowledged he was gratified to finally claim a win at the circuit.

"I was very happy to finally win here in Bahrain," he said in his post-race interview. "It was a very good first stint. From there, it was about looking after the tyres.

"[There are] just little things we want to fine-tune. I think we have a good race package. I think it will depend race-to-race, [but] we can definitely fight with this."

Perez, who was aided in securing second by the late retirement of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to an engine issue, feels he can press his team-mate this year though.

After finishing third in the standings last term, the Mexican is looking to ensure he can stay on the heels of the Dutchman as the latter eyes a third consecutive crown.

"We worked really hard over the winter, so it is nice to see all the boys enjoying the first race," he added. "It was important today to get both cars to the end.

"Finishing second was the maximum I could do today [with my start]. It is a long season. I think I am getting closer every single session and I will give my best."

Alonso, who departed Alpine for Aston Martin during the off-season, nabbed his first podium finish since he came third at the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix.

For the Spaniard, the oldest driver in the field at 41, it marked a vindication of his decision to make the move as he continues to defy expectations.

"[It is] amazing for the team, [it] was [a] great weekend," he added. "Finishing on the podium in the first race of the year, it is just amazing.

"What Aston Martin did over the winter to have the second-best car on race one, it's unreal."

Max Verstappen started the defence of his Formula One title with a comfortable victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The two-time world champion was in front from the start and never truly came under threat, leading a Red Bull one-two ahead of Sergio Perez to secure his team's first opening-weekend victory since 2011.

With Charles Leclerc forced into a retirement due to an engine issue, Red Bull's closest challenger was Fernando Alonso, who worked his way through the field for a podium finish.

But a rejuvenated Aston Martin were no match for a dominant Verstappen and Red Bull in what proved to be a comfortable race for the defending champions.

Leclerc, who had a power unit change before the start, leapfrogged Perez to take second place at the start but could not stay ahead of the Mexican, who regained his grid position after the first round of pit stops on lap 26.

Mercedes' fight with Aston Martin was the battle to watch, Lewis Hamilton completing an undercut on Alonso before a stellar move on lap 38 saw the Spaniard move ahead again.

Engine problems for Leclerc led to his retirement three laps later, opening the door for Alonso to battle Carlos Sainz for a podium spot after the virtual safety car was deployed.

Alonso was able to catch his compatriot on lap 46 to clinch third spot in his first race for Aston Martin, though there was no challenge for Red Bull as they eased to only their second ever win in the first race of the year.

Ferrari frustration

Having had to retire from the lead twice in the 2022 season due to engine issues, Leclerc would have hoped those problems were a thing of the past heading into Ferrari's 2023 campaign.

Never appearing to have the pace to put the Red Bull duo under threat, calamity struck with another forced retirement in a nightmare start to the season.

Ocon's Alpine agony

Esteban Ocon's season did not get off to a good start, with the Frenchman given three time penalties over the course of the race.

An initial five-second penalty came for incorrect grid position, with a 10-second penalty following for failing to serve that correctly and another five-second penalty issued for speeding in the pit lane before the Alpine was eventually retired.

 

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +11.987

3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +36.637

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +48.052

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +50.977

6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +54.502

7. George Russell (Mercedes) +55.873

8. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1:12.647

9. Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +1:13.753

10. Alexander Albon (Williams) +1:20.870

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25

2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 18

3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 15

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 12

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 10

Constructors

1. Red Bull 43

2. Aston Martin 23

3. Mercedes 16

4. Ferrari 12

5. Alfa Romeo 4

Formula One world champion Max Verstappen surprised himself by claiming pole position in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen, on the hunt for a third straight world title, will start at the front of the grid in Sunday's season-opening race after recording a quickest lap of 1:29:708 on Saturday.

Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez qualified in second to complete the front row, with the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz behind them on the second row.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton had to settle for seventh behind Mercedes team-mate George Russell, with Fernando Alonso wedged in fifth.

Ferrari had topped the opening two qualifying sessions but with Verstappen coming good in Q3, they elected against heading out again, instead choosing to conserve their tyres.

"It has been a bit of a tough start to the weekend yesterday and today not really finding my rhythm, but luckily in qualifying we managed to put the best pieces together," Verstappen said.

"I am very happy to be on pole. For the whole team coming off last year and again having such a strong car with Checo up there as well. It is amazing and I am looking forward to tomorrow. 

"The changes slowed down the car a bit but we are still going faster, which is great to see. Throughout the year, you will see everyone increasing their performance again a lot and that is the beautiful thing about Formula One.

"I was actually positively surprised to be on pole after the struggles I had in practice. Normally our race car is better, so let's see."

Despite having plenty of work to do to compete for a podium finish, Hamilton was in a buoyant mood.

"We went in with a really open mind," he told Sky Sports. "I woke up thinking we were going to be a lot further behind, and so the fact we're even getting into Q3 was great.

"We made a step forward today and the car was feeling much more alive this morning, and all of a sudden we were in a different place to where we were the day before. But then we got to qualifying and for me the car just didn't feel alive, it felt kind of average.

"It's not an impossible mountain to climb, so that's a positive, and I know everyone back at the factory has been working so hard. We can definitely close the gap, we've just got really focus and push like never before."

Leclerc, meanwhile, was happy with Ferrari's strategy despite believing he had the chance to fight for pole.

"There wasn't any issue. I think we were in the fight for pole, which was a good surprise to be honest because I did not expect that after testing and after free practices that were a little bit difficult," Leclerc said.

"We managed to find that pace for the qualifying pace, which was great. However, we need to keep in our mind that on the race runs, we seemed to be a little bit on the back foot compared to Red Bull.

"I think that we're in a better place starting third with new tyres than starting first with older. I don't know if I would have been in pole or not but it would have been close."

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
5. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
6. George Russell (Mercedes)
7. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
8. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
10. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)

Fernando Alonso provided an unlikely threat to Max Verstappen and Red Bull in practice ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen and Red Bull will be expected to take the Formula One title again this year after dominating in 2022.

But Verstappen topped the charts in neither of the first two sessions of the week on Friday.

Team-mate Sergio Perez was fastest in FP1, yet Aston Martin's Alonso was in second, ahead of third-placed Verstappen.

In FP2, F1 great Alonso then went one better with the fastest time. Verstappen was again one place back, in second, with Perez third.

Red Bull could at least be encouraged by the lack of a credible challenge from their long-standing rivals.

Charles Leclerc was fifth and then fourth for Ferrari, and the two Mercedes cars were further back still.

Lewis Hamilton was made to work hard for a pair of top-10 finishes in 10th and eighth, while George Russell settled for 11th in FP1 before falling to 13th in FP2.

A new Formula One season is upon us and the 2023 campaign will be the longest in the history of the elite motorsport class.

The number of races is rising to 23, with Las Vegas joining the show, though drama will not be limited to the track.

Two seasons ago, the controversial conclusion to the campaign in Abu Dhabi was a dominant story, while last year saw Red Bull's budget cap breach and an Oscar Piastri fight between Alpine and McLaren, as well as frustrations with governing body the FIA, notably over the drivers' freedom of expression.

Get set for sporting theatre to unfold over the course of the season ahead, though the biggest talking point centres around whether anyone can dethrone Red Bull.

Red Bull gives you wins

Max Verstappen finished at the front in 15 of 22 races last season, setting a record for the most triumphs in a single campaign, and he has won over half of the events in the past two years (25 wins from 44 races).

While pre-season testing never offers a full indication of what lies ahead, Red Bull's strength was still evident and the consensus is that the defending champions will begin the campaign with an advantage over their rivals.

 

If that gap cannot be reduced, the biggest threat to a third consecutive crown for Verstappen may come from team-mate Carlos Perez. Should that happen, tempers may flare as they did in Sao Paulo in November when Verstappen refused a team order to allow the Mexican through.

One aspect that may provide hope to Red Bull's rivals is the punishment issued for the budget cap breach, which included a 10 per cent reduction in aerodynamic testing allowance for 12 months. While it came too late to have a major implication on the overall develop of this year's car, it could restrict the team's ability to fix any issues that arise.

Ferrari's fight to the front

A season that offered so much promise for Ferrari last term ultimately fell away through mistakes in race strategy and engine failures, the latter of which resulted in the team having to run in a low-power mode to avoid further woes.

Charles Leclerc certainly has the ability to go head to head with perennial rival Verstappen, who he has raced since his junior days, while Carlos Sainz got his long-awaited maiden F1 win at Silverstone last year.

The appointment of Fred Vasseur as team principal, replacing Mattia Binotto, hands the Scuderia an experienced head on the pit wall and may result in fewer questionable calls in race strategy.

Ferrari are confident they can mount a challenge this season and, even though Leclerc has conceded Red Bull may start with an advantage, he believes the Prancing Horse can respond.

"The target is still [to win the title]. Even if we are starting a bit of the back foot compared to them in terms of performance, I'm sure we can come back," Leclerc told Sky Sports.

Mercedes on a mission

Any hopes of a Mercedes revival in 2023 appear to have stalled already, with testing performances suggesting the team may have to look over their shoulders at those chasing from behind rather than competing at the top.

Mercedes' design continues to divide opinion, with a zero-pod approach being vastly different to their rivals and leading to questions about whether they have stuck to their guns out of pride rather than sporting merit.

With Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel, there is always a chance and the Briton will be determined to come back and add to his record 103 race wins having failed to secure a victory last season – the first campaign in his career when he has not registered a win.

The seven-time world champion was outperformed by team-mate George Russell last season, however. Russell secured a maiden race win in the penultimate race and offered consistency throughout the campaign.

Best of the rest

The biggest surprise of the testing weekend in Bahrain was the pace shown by Aston Martin who, with the addition of Fernando Alonso, have a driver who could mount a serious threat to the bigger guns on the grid.

Though a third world title for the Spaniard may be a stretch, regular podiums and dethroning one of the big three in the constructors' championship is certainly an achievable goal.

At Alpine, great care will be taken to ensure French compatriots Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon do not find themselves butting heads, with a frosty relationship over the years, while McLaren have already admitted they missed their development targets and start on the back foot as a result.

Andreas Seidl, now at the helm of Alfa Romeo-Sauber, enters with high expectations ahead of the team's transition into Audi in 2026, while AlphaTauri's long-term future continues to be questioned despite assurances Red Bull will not sell their second-string team.

Expect the season to also see further rumblings regarding new additions to the grid, with Porsche and Andretti among those pushing to join.

As ever, there is plenty to watch out for in F1 and from the first corner to the last there are likely to be surprises along the way.

Formula One returns this weekend with Red Bull clearly the team to beat after a dominant 2022 season.

Max Verstappen won his second straight drivers' championship but in far more comfortable fashion than the previous year when the most dramatic of finales saw Lewis Hamilton pipped.

And unlike in 2021, it was a double celebration for Red Bull as the team also took the constructors' title after a run of Mercedes triumphs.

But Red Bull's commanding campaign did not start as strongly as it finished, and hope of a repeat will encourage the chasing pack at this week's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Red Bull pair Verstappen and Sergio Perez were both forced to retire at this event a year ago, while Ferrari's Charles Leclerc controlled proceedings with pole position, the fastest lap and a race win.

Unfortunately for the Scuderia, it was not a sign of things to come.

Verstappen was back on the top step of the podium at the next race and soon disappeared into the distance.

That initial result was nothing out of the ordinary as Red Bull have only once won the first race in the calendar, back in 2011 when they took the first two.

Those slow starts clearly do not hamper Red Bull across the rest of the season, although they will hope to avoid a similar early setback this time and have both Verstappen and Perez off to a fast start.

Charles the chief threat

If Red Bull are to be beaten again this week, last year's victor Leclerc appears the man most likely to profit. In the past six races in Bahrain, he is the only man to secure pole twice. A third would make this his favourite event.

Meanwhile, podiums for both Leclerc and team-mate Carlos Sainz would make Ferrari the first team to tally 800 in F1.

But Leclerc has been guarded on the merits of his SF-23 car, telling F1's Beyond the Grid podcast: "Sometimes I've had a car that feels good, and until you see the lap time, you're like, 'okay, this feels pretty good'. And then you have a very bad surprise watching the lap time. Sometimes it is the other way."

All eyes on Lewis

The driver of most interest this weekend might be the man who finished the season sixth last year. Lewis Hamilton vanished from contention, and while Mercedes' issues were the key factor, he also trailed new team-mate George Russell.

At the very least, Hamilton will expect to fight back and beat Russell this year.

Only in Abu Dhabi (10 points) and Great Britain (zero points) has Russell won fewer points than his 12 in four editions of the Bahrain GP, so the opportunity is there for Hamilton to forge an early lead.

Formula One world champion Max Verstappen expects Lewis Hamilton to challenge him for the title next year "if he has the car to do it".

Hamilton, a seven-time drivers' championship winner, was blighted by car issues with Mercedes last season as he failed to win a race for the first time in his career.

Red Bull star Verstappen tallied a record-breaking 15 wins to finish 146 points ahead of closest rival Charles Leclerc in a dominant title-winning 2022 campaign.

But the Dutchman does not envisage a third straight F1 crown coming with such relative ease in 2023.

"He's been one of the greatest drivers ever in the sport, so for sure if he has the car to do it, he can fight for the title again," Verstappen told Sky Sports of Hamilton.

He added: "But that's the same for George [Russell], it's the same for Charles, it's the same for Lando [Norris] – if you give them the car that's capable of winning the championship, they can.

"But it's also about when you have the car then the pressure comes you cannot afford big mistakes.

"That's a bit of a different pressure you have but I'm confident once these guys get onto a roll like that it is all possible, they all have talent to do so."

Red Bull cruised to the constructors' championship last year, winning the title for the first time since 2013.

However, the team have been hit with wind tunnel testing restrictions and CFD limitations after they were judged to have breached financial regulations.

The full impact of those punishments is unclear but a reduction in time allowed in the wind tunnel could lead Red Bull to fall behind their rivals in aerodynamic developments.

"You always try to go for it, but I don't know if we're going to be good enough," Verstappen added.

"Of course as a team we believe we are, we are very motivated, we come off the back of a very strong year and we are working flat out to try and achieve that."

Ford will return to F1 this year for the first time since 2004 and partner with Red Bull from 2026.

Verstappen cannot wait for the partnership after seeing success in a collaboration with Honda, having also witnessed first-hand the struggles with the Renault combination.

"I signed twice without actually fully knowing what was coming in terms of engines, and people said maybe that's a crazy thing to do," he continued.

"I believed in the project and I believed that everyone involved would make the right decisions for the team.

"The first one they made going with Honda, I think that worked out really well and now for the future this is the next step – Ford in 2026 – and I believe in it.

"If we all believe in it, I'm sure we can create something really cool."

Ford will return to Formula One for the first time since 2004 and partner with Red Bull from 2026.

Red Bull revealed their RB19 car for the 2023 season at a launch event in New York City on Friday, with reigning F1 champion Max Verstappen, team-mate Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner in attendance.

Ford, meanwhile, will return to F1 after a 22-year absence, working with Red Bull to build a power unit for F1's next engine regulations.

"We are mavericks, we are pushing the boundaries. We are looking forward to this busy season in 2023," said Horner, whose team took the constructors' title off Mercedes last year, as well as seeing Verstappen win for a second straight year.

"It is going to be an incredible season; our rivals for sure haven't stood still. Ferrari are going to be competitive, Mercedes are going to be there; there are some other teams that could make some big progress as well.

"In Bahrain, in a couple of weeks' time, we will get to see everyone's car and see if we have missed something, have we not.

"There is going to be highs and lows along the way, but I think we are in a good place. We are going to have to be at the top of our game this season."

Of Red Bull's partnership with Ford, Horner added: "To welcome the Ford brand back into Formula One, to have the Red Bull Ford powertrain is going to be very exciting.

"There was a natural synergy between the two companies, it was an easy deal – 2026 seems like a long way away, but in the engine world, it is tomorrow.

"We have recruited some incredible talent and have some great people in the team.  We are really excited about what we can achieve."

Ford's involvement in F1 began in the 1960s with a long-standing partnership with British firm Cosworth.

They are the third-most successful engine manufacturer in the history of F1, having played a part in winning 10 constructors' championships and 13 drivers' championships.

Ford chief executive Jim Farley said: "We don't want to make generic cars, faceless vehicles; we want vehicles with an attitude – this team represents that."

Horner said: "It's a huge era for the team. As Formula One moves to pretty much a 50-50 split between hybridisation and combustion power, we wanted to have a like-minded partner.

"It's great to see the Ford brand coming back into Formula One."

Max Verstappen is confident Red Bull will use the punishments issued for budget cap breaches as "extra motivation" to succeed in 2023.

The team, who won the Constructor's Championship for the first time since 2013 last season, have been hit with wind tunnel testing restrictions and CFD limitations after they were judged to have breached financial regulations.

The full impact of those punishments is unclear but a reduction in time allowed in the wind tunnel could lead Red Bull to fall behind their rivals in aerodynamic developments, causing them to lose time on the fastest sections of Formula One tracks.

Rivals Ferrari are reported to have made significant gains ahead of the 2023 campaign, with their car said to be a second faster than their 2022 vehicle, while Mercedes made clear improvements at the back end of last season.

However, Verstappen, bidding to win a third consecutive championship, expects Red Bull to be in the running and feels the punishments issued can provide additional encouragement for the team.

"Well, I mean, it will affect us, but how much? I don't know yet," he told the F1's official website.

"I'm confident that the team, and the people we have, can use that as extra motivation to try and do even better. I know, of course, they always give their best.

"But we have a very competitive car, we have a lot of great ideas, I think, already for next year as well with the car, and hopefully it’s going to be enough."

F1 teams head to Bahrain in February for pre-season testing, before the new campaign begins in Sakhir on March 5.

Max Verstappen believes it is unlikely he will be as dominant in the 2023 Formula One season, with regulations allowing his rivals to be more competitive.

The Red Bull ace bounced back from a slow start to the season to dominate the 2022 campaign, securing a record-breaking 15 wins to finish 146 points ahead of his closest rival, Charles Leclerc.

Verstappen expects a much tougher fight from the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes next year, however, with the recent regulation changes allowing everyone to be "closer together".

"The others are not stupid. And certainly with these rules, which are a bit more restrictive than the previous set of rules, everyone is getting closer together," he told RacingNews365.

"All teams now have an idea of ​​which course to take so yes, I expect smaller differences next year, but that's only good. Of course, I hope that we are still ahead, but that is not at all as obvious as this year."

Red Bull's defence of their two titles will be further impacted by sanctions dished out after being found guilty of breaching Formula One's budget cap, with Verstappen questioning the punishment.

The 25-year-old added: "Probably everyone is more motivated because of this. I personally think it is a heavy punishment for what we have done, but yes, what can we do about it?

"It happened and we will see next year what effect it really has had on us."

The new season begins in Bahrain on March 5, with a record-high 24 races scheduled across the course of the year.

Max Verstappen suggests any drivers in Formula One not prepared for a record-breaking race calendar next season should consider quitting.

The Red Bull man, who claimed a second world drivers' championship crown this term, capped his imperious year with victory at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix earlier this month.

But the Dutchman will face a longer fight to defend his title once more next term, with F1 poised for a possible 24-race campaign, two more than in 2022.

That has raised concerns over the fatigue drivers may face across a mammoth season, but Verstappen suggests those who do not feel they are cut out for the long haul should step back.

"If you're not prepared, then it's better to stop already, right?" he told The Guardian. "I think we're all racers, and we love racing.

"I think we are all prepared for longer seasons. I hope it will be tight. It's always nice to have a fight until the end. But yeah, I'm prepared for more races and for a longer fight hopefully."

Having seen the battle for his maiden title in 2021 go down to the wire in controversial circumstances, Verstappen ultimately secured his second crown with four races to go, at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Acknowledging it was nice to have a change of pace, the Dutchman also affirmed his hopes for a closer contest next term.

"You can't have that drama every single year, for sure," he reflected on 2021. "It's not good for me, it's not healthy for anyone in the team, both teams.

"Of course it's nice to have a season like I had last year, but it's also nice to have a season like I have this year.

"It just would be very tough if you have that every single year. But that also doesn't really happen in F1, so it should be okay."

Max Verstappen already ranks among Formula One's all-time greatest drivers, believes former world champion Nico Rosberg, after the Dutchman's latest triumph.

The Red Bull man signed off on a second successive world drivers' championship crown in emphatic style with victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last weekend.

With 15 race wins this season, Verstappen has set a new record for most victories in a single campaign, and has moved to sixth on the all-time list, overhauling Fernando Alonso.

Now former Mercedes driver Rosberg, who won the title in 2016, thinks he deserves to be high in the conversation when it comes to determining who the sport's finest stars are.

"He is an incredible driver," he told Sky Sports podcast Any Driven Monday. "I think it's easy to say even now that's he's going to be one of the best of all time, if you look at the statistics he actually even is now.

"He's a double world champion [and] with all of the race wins that he has, more than Alonso, he's already one of the best of all time. I think he's only getting started.

"He's going to confirm that in the next decade, certainly. His level of driving is phenomenal, and it's great to witness that."

Though the latter half of his campaign was dogged by Red Bull's salary cap infringements, Verstappen's achievements nevertheless came impressively this year,

An early title battle with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc ultimately petered out after a multitude of strategy errors from his rivals, but even before then, the Dutchman looked to have the edge.

"We need to remember also, it's not like from the get-go this year his car was miles quicker than everyone else's," Rosberg added.

"The Ferrari was the quickest car in the beginning of the season and still, he got this incredible 15 wins and really destroyed the opposition in that way.

"If you look at the points, he scored 146 more than anybody else, it's unreal. It's one of the greatest driving seasons we've ever seen, certainly."

Max Verstappen has hinted he could retire from Formula One when his contract with Red Bull expires in 2028, saying: "I want to do other stuff".

Verstappen retained the drivers' championship in dominant fashion this campaign, posting 15 victories in 22 races – a new single-season record.

However, speaking before he claimed a record third straight victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, Verstappen highlighted F1's impact on his family life and cast doubt upon his long-term future in the sport.

Asked whether he would continue in F1 when his current deal expires in six years, he told Sky Sports: "I don't know after that, but it also probably depends how competitive we are in '28.

"I've still got time. I don't want to make drastic decisions now.

"I want to do other stuff. F1 is amazing and I've achieved a lot, and I'm very happy and proud about it, but it's a lot of travelling and it's a lot of races.

"At one point, what is more important? Is family more important, or is F1 more important? That's when you need to make your mind up."

Verstappen finished the season 146 points clear of second-placed Charles Leclerc in the drivers' championship standings, having wrapped up his second world title with four races to spare.

Max Verstappen acknowledged it will be tough to replicate his "unbelievable" season next year after landing his 15th win of the Formula One campaign at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Red Bull star secured a record third straight victory in races at the Yas Marina Circuit, leading from the start of Sunday's grand prix to its conclusion.

Dutchman Verstappen had secured his second consecutive world title long before the season-ending event in the Middle East, and it would be remarkable if he is similarly dominant in 2023.

"It's been really enjoyable this year, working with the whole team to be able to achieve something like this year," Verstappen told Sky Sports.

"I know it's going to be hard to replicate something like this, but it's also very good motivation to try and do well next year."

Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, who held off Sergio Perez to finish second in the drivers' championship, opted for a one-stop pit strategy with their respective Red Bull and Ferrari teams.

Two-time world champion Verstappen cited the importance of tyre management after an efficient performance, as constructors' championship winners Red Bull finished 205 points clear of Ferrari.

"I think we looked after the mediums quite well," he said. "And then on the hard tyres, I was looking after them from lap one until the end, but incredible to win here again."

After becoming the first driver to win three straight races in Abu Dhabi – and also the first to do so from pole in all three – Verstappen appeared somewhat lost for words, labelling the win as "unbelievable".

Max Verstappen claimed a record third straight victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as Charles Leclerc edged Sergio Perez for second at Formula One's season-ending event.

The Red Bull pair dominated the headlines in Sao Paulo last Sunday after Verstappen refused to allow Perez to overtake to aid his battle with Leclerc in the drivers' championship.

Verstappen became the first driver to win three consecutive races at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday, but the Brazil decision came back to haunt Red Bull as Leclerc held off Perez to claim second.

That saw the Ferrari driver beat Perez to second in the drivers' championship, while Lewis Hamilton ended the 2022 season without victory for the first time in his career after late Mercedes car failure and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel signed off with a point.

Sao Paulo winner George Russell suffered a five-second penalty after an unsafe release in the pits, before Fernando Alonso retired on lap 28 due to problems with his Alpine car.

Red Bull decided to pit Perez on lap 34, handing second to Leclerc, before the Mexican eventually battled past Hamilton to move into third with 11 laps remaining.

Mechanical issues for Hamilton saw the Mercedes star forced to withdraw on lap 56, while Ferrari opted to keep Leclerc on the same hard tyres with a one-stop strategy throughout.

That decision proved rewarding as Leclerc held off Perez to finish behind 15-race winner Verstappen as Ferrari secured second in both the drivers' and constructors' championship behind Red Bull.

Hamilton claims unwanted record

Hamilton experienced a season to forget as he and Mercedes battled with car issues – no more so than on Sunday – and underwhelming performances against the dominant Red Bull.

The seven-time world champion boasts the most wins in history at Abu Dhabi (five) but was unable to draw on that experience as he finished without a win or pole position this season amid a frustrating campaign.

Vettel bows out

Four-time F1 champion Vettel announced in July he would retire at the end of the 2022 season, with the last event in Abu Dhabi acting as his final swansong.

The German, who was heard questioning his team's strategy on radio, could only manage 10th in his final outing but ended with the most points in history for Aston Martin (80) after his 299th career race.

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +8.771 seconds
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +10.093s
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +24.892s
5. George Russell (Mercedes) +35.888s
6. Lando Norris (McLaren) +56.234s
7. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +57.2402
8. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1:16.931s
9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1:23.268s
10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1:23.898s

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 454
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 308
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 305
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 275
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 246

Constructors

1. Red Bull 759
2. Ferrari 554
3. Mercedes 515
4. Alpine 173
5. McLaren 159

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