Formula One champ Max Verstappen ends season with 15th victory

AP photo by Kamran Jebreili / Red Bull driver Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday to close the Formula One season. He won for a record-extending 15th time.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — A year after one of the most controversial finishes to a race and a season in the history of Formula One, Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was anything but.

Max Verstappen, as usual this season, was far ahead of the rest of the field on his way to a record-extending 15th win of the season.

"Incredible to win again here, 15th win of the season is unbelievable," the 25-year-old Dutchman said. "It's been really enjoyable to work with the whole team and to be able to achieve something like this this year."

At the track where he beat seven-time Lewis Hamilton last year — after a restart call that is still hotly disputed to this day — Verstappen held off Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez at the start, and the two-time reigning F1 champ didn't face a serious challenge after that in the season finale.

Instead, much of the attention was on retiring four-time champion Sebastian Vettel battling in the midfield pack in his final race, while a hydraulic problem ended Hamilton's race as the British legend finished an F1 season without a win for the first time in his career.

"I am very pleased it is over and done with," Hamilton said. "I gave it everything, but ultimately the last race was like my whole season. It summed up my year."

There was potential for a fight for second place on track and in the championship standings, but little real drama panned out.

Perez and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc came into the race equal on points, just like Verstappen and Hamilton did last year. Leclerc got past Perez by opting for one fewer pit stop and managed his old tires so that Perez couldn't get close enough to try to pass.

That thwarted Red Bull's bid to have its drivers place first and second as Leclerc finished three points ahead of Perez in the standings. It meant Verstappen's refusal to yield sixth place to his teammate at the previous race in Brazil — which left Red Bull facing questions over an apparent rift in the team and was followed by a wave of abusive comments on social media aimed at Verstappen and his family — turned out not to be decisive at the end of the season.

"I knew the only possibility to beat Checo (Perez) today was with a different strategy and playing with the tire management, which we did really well today," Leclerc said. "I really hope next year we can do a step forward to fight for the championship."

Leclerc and Ferrari seemed able to challenge Verstappen for the title at the start of the season, but Red Bull improved its car performance advantage through the season. Errors on track from Leclerc and in Ferrari's race strategy held them back, too.

Carlos Sainz was fourth in the other Ferrari, while George Russell was fifth despite a five-second penalty when the Mercedes team released him from a pit stop into the path of another car. Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren, ahead of Alpine's Esteban Ocon, Aston Martin's Lance Stroll and Norris' teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who is without a race contract for 2023 and is likely to be Red Bull's reserve driver next year.

Vettel placed 10th for Aston Martin as he retires from F1 after 16 years.