It’s the most wonderful time of the year again because Christmas is just around the corner and, even better, Formula 1 came back to town! The final Grand Prix of the 2023 Formula 1 season has made its return for the 15th time, starting from Nov. 23 to Nov. 26. As usual, a series of performers were in attendance for the after-race concert, starting with Ava Max and Tiesto (Thursday night), Chris Brown (Friday night), Shania Twain (Saturday night), and finally, Foo Fighters (Sunday night). Alongside the free practice, the qualifying, and the final race itself, we also witnessed the last sprint race of the season courtesy of Formula 2. Celebrities present at the Grand Prix were individuals such as Priyanka Chopra, the handsome Hemsworth brothers (specifically Liam and Chris), the stunning Naomi Campbell, the man, the myth, the legend, Steve Harvey, the dazzling Georgina Rodriguez, and more.
If you couldn’t experience Formula 1 this year, don’t worry; I was there and can now catch you up on that weekend's events. Let’s dive into it.
The Pit Lane Walk — Nov. 23
The Pit Lane Walk is an exclusive event where ticket holders walk along the pit lane at the Main Grandstand and peek into the garages of the Formula 1 team. All the garages, not just a handful they left open.
After checking in, we immediately walked into what felt like a beach club; the West Fan Zone. To paint the picture for you, there were food trucks surrounding the shaded area of picnic tables and blue wooden seats with cushions on top. There was live music being played by a man and his guitar. I think I had one of the best pizzas of my life there. We’ll see how it compares to the one I’ll have in Italy one day.
Whilst we sat there on our picnic table thinking that all was dandy and cute, still processing where we were, and unanimously agreeing that eating first was a great idea, we failed to see the astronomical line that was developing behind us to enter the pit lane.
We were lucky, though, with the fact that the line was moving so quickly that it did not take us long to finally walk onto the actual track! We were walking through the straight that is sandwiched in between the Main Grandstand where the starting grid is. There is something so strange and amazing about seeing the Rolex clock that counts down to the start of the race up close in person. Like I know that clock and why it is iconic, and now it’s here. Wow. But it is also just a clock. But it is also not just any clock. Hm.
The garages were each full of mechanics working around the cars. I would have never thought I would get this close to a Formula 1 car, let alone hear their engines rev from up close and be at arm's reach distance of the front wings. Some well-known mechanics that people have seen make an appearance on their screens at their teams' garages such as Calum Nicholas for Red Bull. Remember that one Ferrari mechanic that everyone seemed to have fallen head over heels for? He was also there! Unfortunately, we missed out on an appearance from Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
Overall, it was a successful first day to kick off the weekend.
The Vibes — Nov. 24
The main event of Friday was the Drivers Interviews where the main stage of Fan Zone 1 hosted the drivers of Alpha Romeo, Aston Martin (minus Lance Stroll), Williams, Alpha Tauri, and McLaren, each one talking about their experience so far. The Alpha Tauri team was handing out signed postcards by Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, and Lando Norris went down to the crowd to sign some items himself.
The man, the myth, the legend, Toto Wolff, team principal of the Mercedes Formula 1 team, was also present at the interviews, as well as Christian Horner, Red Bull principal. But Wolff had a clear fighting spirit as he responded to the question regarding the fight for P2 in the Constructors championship with the statement “We don’t care much for a P2 as much as we care about P1, but we need to keep pushing."
Fun fact: the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is dominated by the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team as they have the most wins under both Constructors category — with 6 wins — and Driver, namely Lewis Hamilton, with 5 wins.
The Qualifying + Formula 2 Sprint Race — Nov. 25
The Red Bull, Hass, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Alpine of the 2023 season were present at Driver Interviews after the hope of seeing them at the first interview session the day before was lost. The most popular topic of discussion was about the Las Vegas Grand Prix, mainly about the jetlag from Vegas to Abu Dhabi, their thoughts on the late timing of the race in comparison to other races (funnily enough, they each had some negative remarks about the Las Vegas Grand Prix) and of course, how they spent their free time there.
The qualifying races were 50% exciting and 50% disappointing for both Ferrari and Mercedes as each had only one driver in the top 10 positions and one in the bottom 10, specifically Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) in 2nd place, and George Russell (Mercedes) in 4th, with Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) in 16th and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) in 11th. Red Bull and McLaren fans were having a field day with the qualifiers as Oscar Piastri, their rookie driver, placed 3rd and Lando Norris placed 5th. As always, Max Verstappen took pole (first place) and Sergio Perez placed 9th, just within the points.
The Big Day - Nov. 26
The hill access gave us a view of the cars circling from a hill on picnic pillows and blankets. I will not lie, this race was like every other race from this season: Max Verstappen leading, Ferrari trying not to mess up strategies, and the Mercedes boys struggling to catch up with the Red Bulls.
HOWEVER! There was a slight — and very interesting — turn of events. Yuki Tsunoda, the young Japanese driver for Alpha Tauri, was leading the race for a good few laps. Max Verstappen was called into the pitlane to change tires when many drivers caught up to him and overtook him, pushing him down a good few places on the grid. The last time an Alpha Tauri driver finished in the top 3 was in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in 2021. For a second there, I was thinking that the last race of a Red Bull (and Max Verstappen) dominated season would end with the national anthem of Japan and not the Netherlands.
Max finished first.
Here is where it gets interesting (and to be honest, fun for me). If it is not clear already, I support Mercedes Benz. Now, the order of the first four drivers to cross the finish line goes as follows: Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Sergio Perez (also Red Bull), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), and finally George Russell (Mercedes Benz). This would have meant that the podium would look like Verstappen, Perez, and Leclerc. But, there was an “incident” in the race. Sergio Perez pushed a McLaren driver, Lando Norris, off the track which cost Perez a five-second penalty. This penalty would bring him down the scoreboard, which in turn pushed Leclerc and Russell up by one, meaning the final standings for the podium were Verstappen, Leclerc, and Russell. Not only did I get one of my favorite drivers on the podium during the last race of the season, but Mercedes Benz won P2 in the constructors championship. A success nonetheless!
Who knows what will become of next season? Will Red Bull still dominate the sport? Will Max have a full pole streak winning first every race? Will Mercedes’ new plans for the car next season bring surprises to the season and get them back to the front of the race?
Xandra Eid is Deputy Columns Editor. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.