Time On Track: Episode 23 – Abu Dhabi [Live Report]

The 2023 Formula 1 season drew to a close this weekend with the final race once again taking place in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. The drivers and constructors championships were long since decided, but many of the remaining positions for both teams and drivers came down to the final laps, delivering the last bits of drama of the season in some unexpected ways. Our own Blake Buettner was at the race, coming out of Dubai Watch Week the week prior, so this is a special episode recounting the experience, the race, and the season as a whole. The race in Abu Dhabi capped the most dominant season of the sport ever witnessed, with Max Verstappen claiming his 19th victory of the 22 race season, and his 3rd consecutive driver’s championship in the process. Red Bull as a team won all but a single race this season, and did so with what appeared to be relative ease. As decisive as the season was, there was still plenty of racing to enjoy behind the Red Bulls, and plenty to look forward to in 2024.

Going into the race in Abu Dhabi, 4th place in the drivers championship was closely contested by 4 drivers separated by just a handful of points, while the constructors championship was far from settled pretty much down the grid. Despite some late strategic moves from Charles Leclerc, it was enough for Ferrari to take 2nd place in the constructors away from Mercedes, who ended up a mere 3 points ahead of them. McLaren also took a decisive hold on 4th place in the constructors, ahead of Aston Martin, thanks to a heroic second half of the season, becoming a mainstay on the podium after the summer break. On the driver side of the equation, 4th place through 7th place ended up separated by just 6 points, with Fernando Alonso coming out ahead of Leclerc, Norris, and Sainz.


Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is home to Yas Marina Circuit, which hosted its 15th Grand Prix this year. The track is about 75 miles south of Dubai, with sparse scenery between the two. Much like Dubai, new construction dominates much of the landscape around the track. The venue itself is situated along a marina inlet, hence the name, with actual boats sitting in water along the southeastern sections of the track. The W Hotel sits in the center of the track itself, and serves as something of a hub for the events before and after the race (as well as offering plenty of good viewing areas around its perimeter). My area of choice was The Hill, which was a large patch of grass that could be openly traversed to view the pit lane exit at turn 3, all the way to the long straight between turns 7 and 8. Sitting along the turn 2, 3, and 4 section offered the closest view to the action, with the smell of the scrapping floor plates wafting through the area after the cars passed through.

Following the race from one section of the track is a tricky proposition, especially if you don’t have a large screen in your line of view. Such was the case on The Hill, but getting that close to the action was worth the compromise in positional awareness. The race began as the sun was setting, leading to a mix of pastel blues and purples as the race went on, eventually finishing under the lights and a near full moon. The beautiful setting was far less chaotic than the scene in Miami last year, and had me wondering why there aren’t more races set at dusk on the calendar.

The race itself passed without incident, a testament to the record levels of reliability exhibited by the cars this year. In fact, of the 440 total race entries this season, 374 crossed the finish line, a completion rate of 85%. In hindsight, this makes Ferrari’s strategy of waiting for a safety car a bit more perplexing, rather than sending Sainz up the field on a better tire strategy. Max Verstappen was the only driver to finish every lap this season, something that has only been done twice before. As much as we love that stat, we’d dearly like to see a more competitive field of cars next year, with tighter racing at the front of the pack.

To achieve that, 9 of the 10 teams will need to make some big leaps, perhaps even changing concepts entirely. Big risks will need to be taken to match the pace of Red Bull, who seem to understand the regulations on a fundamentally different level. This will likely lead to some even bigger gaps throughout the field, which is a necessary risk in hopes of getting at least a few of the cars on the same plane as whatever Red Bull has up their sleeve for next season, which will presumably be another step ahead from the already dominant RB19.

Whatever the case, Red Bull deserve enormous respect for what they’ve achieved this season. We’ll return for a hopefully more competitive season next year, which will begin with pre-season testing in Bahrain, February 21-23, 2024. Thank you for joining us this season, and if you have any feedback you can hop over to the Worn & Wound+ Slack channel to connect with Ricardo and Blake.

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