ABU DHABI - Max Verstappen may have dominated Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the 2022 season, but he was quick to warn his Red Bull team not to expect another year of runaway success in 2023.
In the chaotic aftermath of a strategic race, in which tyre management and tactical decisions were decisive factors, the two-time champion made clear he did not expect to equal his own record-breaking feats.
"It has been really enjoyable to work with the whole team to achieve something like this, this year," he said. "I know it is going to be difficult to replicate, but it also gives us some motivation to try and do well again."
Not only did Verstappen reel off an unprecedented 15 wins in a single season, but he did so with masterful authority as Red Bull won 17 races to clinch their first constructors' title since 2013.
Mercedes' record run of eight constructors’ championship triumphs was ended and, after a disappointing year of only one victory, they finished third behind an inconsistent and undisciplined Ferrari.
The 'scarlet scuderia' took consolation in Charles Leclerc's clever drive, which included a 'dummy' pit-stop call from his team, to finish second, only eight seconds adrift of his Dutch rival and nemesis, to clinch second place in the drivers' and constructors' championships for himself and Ferrari respectively.
Ferrari team chief Mattia Binotto, whose future has been in doubt, said it was an uplifting result for the team after a run of bungled operational performances in races this year.
It also proved that Ferrari's car is very close in pure speed to the Red Bull and that, with few errors, they can mount a serious and direct challenge to the champions next year.
"It's great for the team, great for the strategists and so great to have done a solid weekend," said relieved Binotto. "P2 is the balance of this entire season, not only this race. We certainly did a proper job.
"Our dummy pit stop on the Red Bull was the right call. I am so happy for the team. When Ferrari is making mistakes, there is always so much criticism, but we know too that these guys can perform very well."
- Hot pursuit -
The 'false' call to pit came on lap 34 when Leclerc was told to 'box, opposite Perez'.
The two had started the race level on points in a duel for second in the championship and after the first round of pit stops Perez was second, behind Verstappen, with Leclerc in hot pursuit.
Ferrari's radio call to their Monegasque driver prompted Red Bull to pit Perez for a second time, leaving Leclerc out on track committed to a one-stop strategy. Perez fell to sixth as Leclerc took second, 20 seconds ahead with 24 laps remaining.
In a nail-biting finish, Perez struggled to pass rival cars and finished 1.3 seconds adrift at the flag.
"I can say it now, we dummied him and made him think we were going to pit," said Leclerc. "He took it and went for a second stop -- so we did everything perfect and I am very proud of our execution.
"For the team, it was a good performance in terms of race management. It was such a difficult season – problems with reliability, strategy and tyre management – but we have potential in the car.
“Now we must focus on the next step to find the race pace. It’s something Red Bull seems to have more than us."
After two disappointing years in the doldrums, Ferrari scored four wins on their way to second and, if the operational frailties are repaired, appear to have the potential to trouble Verstappen.
"I do think it will be a lot closer," admitted Verstappen. "People are understanding the cars a lot more and over time the teams will edge closer.
"We know that we have to keep pushing over the winter and trying to find performance and more understanding."
His Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said he expected Mercedes, who showed signs of revival in the second half of the season, to return as a competitive force.
"We don't under-estimate them," he said. "They will be back as a real force and a threat."
© Agence France-Presse