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The Story of the Fight for P2 in Abu Dhabi

The fight for second in the Constructors' Championship went right down to the wire in Abu Dhabi but we managed to emerge from the weekend ahead of Ferrari.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix summed up our 2023 Formula 1 season pretty well. Lots of ups and downs. Not particularly straight forward. And plenty of learnings taken from it all.

With just four points between us and Ferrari in the standings, we knew it wouldn't be an easy task to stay ahead of them, especially because of their good form in recent races.

"We were a little bit on the back foot when you saw Ferrari's performances in the last couple of races," said Toto. "For us, we struggle to have the car in the sweet spot. But the fight with Ferrari is a formidable one between two great brands and with a team we respect a lot."

Unusual FP1

The weekend began with an unusual FP1 session, where half of the field had been replaced by rookie drivers.

We had Frederik Vesti, our Junior Driver, in Lewis' car and he did another strong job. Although he then had to hot-foot it over to the F2 paddock for his Qualifying session that started 25 minutes after he’d climbed out of the car.

The pace looked solid in that session with George finishing fastest. Lewis was then playing catch-up in FP2 but two red flags disrupted running and meant we had to quickly adjust our run-plans to maximise the limited time available.

This all made it difficult to draw conclusions from Friday. We had the car in a decent position and felt we could challenge Ferrari, but it was tough to know where we stood.

FP3 was a similar situation and by Qualifying, it became clear we’d lost some performance in the cooler conditions.

It was another case of mixed fortunes in Qualifying with George P4 and Lewis P11, being knocked out in Q2 after suffering some oversteer on his final lap. Ferrari also had a car out of position on the grid so both teams were in a similar boat. Game on!

Race day

The race on Sunday was all about out-scoring Ferrari and while Max Verstappen raced away out in front, the battle behind him was fierce, with Charles Leclerc, George, the McLarens and Sergio Perez all in the mix.

We took some risks and needed to be aggressive, going for the undercuts and that helped us make up positions on the McLarens and put George into a position where he could fight for a podium.

Further back, Lewis made good progress but once again didn’t have a good feeling in the car, which made the fight back through the field even harder – not helped by some front wing damage he picked up early the race.

Perez came to the party late in the race and George couldn’t hold him back.

If George finished P4, we would have been tied on points – with Ferrari claiming P2 because of their win in Singapore.

But Perez had been handed a five-second time penalty for an earlier incident and so George put in some strong final laps to keep the Red Bull in sight.

When he crossed the line he moved back up to P3 to secure his second podium of the season and 10th as a Mercedes driver.

Further back, Lewis was in a battle of his own with Yuki Tsunoda and was briefly ahead after a last-lap move, before losing the rear of the car.

This fight was made harder by a brake issue that he’d been struggling with from the early stages, which prevented him from fighting much harder against the likes of Fernando Alonso and Tsunoda – especially in the final stint. Nevertheless, those points in P9 were very useful in our scrap for second.

P2 in the Constructors' secured

"I'm really pleased to finish on this high because it's been a challenging season," said George. "P2 in the Championship means a huge amount to everyone in the factories, who have worked so hard."

Lewis added: "A great effort from the whole team, given we've not had a totally competitive car. I'm really grateful and proud of everybody, a big thanks to the team."

It was a difficult end to what's been a strong season for Lewis, where he's scored six podiums and ended the year P3 in the Drivers' Championship.

For George, the weekend was made more challenging by him not feeling 100%.

"I was coughing every single lap but when you're strapped into the car, you can't breathe," he said. "So it was just constantly with me. I was pleased to bring it home when I saw the chequered flag."

While this race marked the end of the season, focus for the next one is already well under way in Brackley and Brixworth.

"This result can be considered a good one," said Toto. "But there is Mount Everest to climb in order to catch up with Red Bull. We must leave no stone unturned and as tough as it is to be reminded that it's just P2, it's also a great opportunity to come back and reach for the stars."

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