#1018 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

2021-04-01 00:00

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#2019, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Giulia Montemurro,

#1018 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

On Sunday, 1st December 2019, at the Yas Marina Circuit on the homonymous island, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix took place, marking the twenty-first and fi


On Sunday, 1st December 2019, at the Yas Marina Circuit on the homonymous island, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix took place, marking the twenty-first and final race of the Formula 1 World Championship. In anticipation of the last F1 race of the season in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari's Team Principal, Mattia Binotto, reviewed the year 2019, during which Ferrari, aside from introducing Charles Leclerc, managed to secure victories at Spa and Monza after a nightmare start to the year. However, the season was dominated by Mercedes, and the Maranello team's goal for 2020 is to close the gap.


"Abu Dhabi is the last race of what has been a very long season for everyone. For us at Scuderia Ferrari, it's been a year of rebuilding, with a young team in their respective roles and Charles in his first year with us. Therefore, one of the objectives in 2019 was to lay the foundations for the future. As is obvious, there were ups and downs: the first part of the season didn't go as we wanted, but those challenging moments allowed me to see the team spirit, unity, the ability to roll up our sleeves, and the determination to fight back". 

Binotto then emphasized the significance of the positive response seen at Spa and Monza at the end of the summer: 


"Particularly meaningful was the reaction we saw after the summer break, with six consecutive pole positions and three consecutive wins, including the one in Monza, which came just a few days after an incredible celebration of the Scuderia's 90 years with a large number of fans at Piazza Duomo in Milan. It's clear that second place will never be enough for Scuderia Ferrari, which is why we're already looking ahead to the intense work that awaits us during the winter to continue growing as a team. The ambition is to come back stronger to meet the challenges that lie ahead. On the occasion of this final championship event, I would like to take the opportunity to thank our fans around the world who have supported us consistently with their passion. This weekend, we will give our all to end the season with a memorable result".


A year that saw the sporting and technical breakthrough of Charles Leclerc, who managed to overshadow his teammate Sebastian Vettel: 


"Abu Dhabi is the last Grand Prix of the season. I believe that most of the paddock is already looking forward to the holidays that will begin on Sunday evening. From my point of view, however, I can only feel a bit sad at the thought that I won't be sitting in the car with the adrenaline of a race weekend for a few months. Usually, in this race, everyone pushes to the maximum because most of the drivers have nothing more to lose. The race starts in natural light, but the checkered flag is waved at night, making this Grand Prix a unique experience".


On Sunday, 1st December 2019, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix took place, marking the season's final event. However, in Ferrari, the inevitable topic of discussion is the incident that occurred in Brazil, with the collision between Vettel and Leclerc, both of whom were forced to retire. During a press conference, the Monegasque driver assures that the atmosphere has improved:


"We watched the footage to understand what we could have done to avoid it. It was a slight touch, but the consequences were dramatic for us. There was an element of bad luck. As a team, we need to be less aggressive towards each other to prevent it from happening again".


The message is clear: there will be more caution, but each will continue on their own path.


"We discussed it in Maranello, and I believe there is no need to talk about it further. We can compete against each other because we are two competitive drivers racing for the same team. But we are also aggressive, which is why we need to give each other more space. I believe Seb didn't need to move to the left, and I should have worked better to avoid him when he moved to the left. But what is clear is that it must not happen again".


With the Brazilian Grand Prix behind them, thoughts now turn to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, after which the curtain will fall on a season with its highs and lows, but one that has given Leclerc the awareness that he is not playing second fiddle to Vettel.


"It's been a bit of a peculiar year. We didn't start at the level we expected after good results in the pre-season tests. But then there was some positive progress, except for Austin, which was another strange race, and we didn't understand why we were so far behind. However, in Brazil, we returned to the level we wanted, apart from the final incident. The worst races of the season? Mine was Brazil, then Monaco, and in third place... no, just these two".


Hamilton is already the World Champion, with Bottas in second place, but the race in the Emirates will determine the third-place finisher. Leclerc (currently fourth with 249 points against Verstappen's 260) believes:


"It would be nice to finish with a podium in the first season at Ferrari. The choices made in a career are important to win a title, but luck also plays a role. In the meantime, I focus on my work".


Hoping that 2020 will be better:


"We are working well on the car for 2020, and I hope to be able to fight for victories".


On Friday, 29th November 2019, during the first practice session, Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time. The Finnish driver of Mercedes, equipped with a car with a new engine, delivered the best performance using Medium tires, more than 1.5 seconds faster than the best time in the first session of the 2018 season. Bottas was ahead of Max Verstappen by over 0.5 seconds and Lewis Hamilton by 0.6 seconds, both using Soft tires. During the first part of the session, Hamilton displayed the #1, as the World Champion, instead of his usual #44. The two Ferraris finished with the fifth and seventh times, trailing Valtteri Bottas's time by two seconds. Sebastian Vettel was also involved in an accident at the end of the session, with his car hitting the barriers in the slow zone of the third sector at the rear. The incident caused a red flag to halt the session. The Maranello team was forced to work on the car, replacing the transmission. The session had already been interrupted about half an hour before its conclusion due to the engine failure in Daniel Ricciardo's Renault. The engine had spilled oil on the track and shed pieces of metal. During the second practice session, Valtteri Bottas once again set the fastest time. The Finnish driver still benefited from the power of the new engine, clocking a time one second better than the best performance in the same session in 2018. Lewis Hamilton followed with a 0.3-second gap, as he was more engaged in finding valid solutions for the race. 


Valtteri Bottas was also involved in an accident with Romain Grosjean, as at turn 11, the Finnish driver delayed his braking, making himself invisible to the Haas driver. Both cars sustained damage, but the drivers managed to drive them back to the pits. Nevertheless, the session was interrupted with the display of the red flag. The race management warned Valtteri Bottas with a reprimand due to the maneuver that triggered the accident. Charles Leclerc posted the third-fastest time, just a few milliseconds behind Lewis Hamilton's time. The Monegasque driver made a driving error similar to what his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, encountered in the first session. His car brushed against the barriers at turn 19 but without suffering significant damage. Thanks to Sebastian Vettel's fourth time, the Ferrari cars managed to outperform the Red Bull Racing cars, which finished with the fifth and sixth times. Daniel Ricciardo's car experienced engine trouble once again, while Antonio Giovinazzi spun at turn 11. George Russell, who had been limited by a physical problem in the morning, was able to take part in the session. At the end of the first day of practice, due to a hydraulic issue, the Mercedes mechanics decided to install the fifth power unit of the season on Valtteri Bottas's car, the second of the race weekend. 


As a result, the Finnish driver will be penalized with a total loss of 35 grid positions for the replacement of various components of the two power units. At the end of the practice sessions, Bottas expressed his satisfaction with the results achieved during the first day of practice at Yas Marina:


"It was a good day on the track. The car was well balanced. I will have a new engine for the weekend, and it seems to be working well. My pace was competitive in both sessions, so we have definitely started the last race weekend on the right foot. I think there is still room for improvement for tomorrow. The track was quite dusty during the early runs of FP1, but it improved quickly".


The Finn provides his version of what happened with the Haas driver:


"The end of my FP2 was compromised by the small incident with Grosjean. I thought he had seen me coming for the overtake on the inside, but by the time I realized he hadn't noticed me, there was no escape".


On the other hand, Lewis Hamilton is less satisfied with his first day on the track in Abu Dhabi:


"It was an unusual Friday. I struggled to find the rhythm, but it's normal to have good and bad days. Nonetheless, the car behaved well, but there are certainly areas we need to work on as a team, and some aspects I need to improve as a driver. I will try to find the best solution for tomorrow tonight. I've been trying different things with the car. We already know it works very well, so I'm trying to push it in different areas to see if there's still something I can get out of the car and the tires in the future".


Red Bull seemed to face more difficulties at Yas Marina compared to their recent triumphant appearance at Interlagos. The Anglo-Austrian team concluded the first day on the Abu Dhabi track with Max Verstappen in fifth place and Alexander Albon in sixth, showing some difficulty with the Pirelli tires provided for the final race of the season. The Dutchman set his time on Medium tires, although the Soft tires could provide an improvement of around 0.5 seconds:


"The feeling wasn't bad. Mercedes still looks very fast, but there are some things on our part that we can improve overall, and there are no big surprises. Overall, it was a decent day".


Verstappen seems to have a clear idea of which tires to use in Q2:


"The Soft tires in a single lap are better. They drop off quite a bit in the race pace, but there won't be any surprises from that perspective".


Alex Albon had some issues adapting to the track, as indicated by his nearly five-tenths gap from his teammate:


"The car felt quite similar, nothing special. We need to improve. Mercedes is obviously very fast, and Ferrari will be in qualifying, so we'll see. Areas for improvement? We need to make the tires work better. It's not easy here; we've seen many drivers spin because it's difficult to make the tires work. We'll see if we can do better tomorrow".


After his absence in Brazil, Toto Wolff returned to the Mercedes pit box for the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. For the manager who has led Mercedes to break all records in the last six years, it was also a kind of personal challenge, as he explained:


"Not being there was strange. It was the first race I missed since my Williams days, since Barcelona in 2012. I did it because we have a lot of things going on at the moment. I also wanted to see how I would react. I know the team is perfectly capable of operating without me, and perhaps it was even a benefit, so I wouldn't distract anyone. Everything that happened would have happened anyway. I hoped it would be a perfect weekend, so I might be able to skip some less good ones next year".


The Ferrari had to contend with a rather competitive Mercedes, both on a single lap and in terms of race pace. The men of the Maranello team are, therefore, forced to play catch-up but remain confident for the upcoming qualifying sessions and the night's work to analyze data and refine setups. Both drivers had minor incidents with the barriers in Turn 19, an issue downplayed by Team Principal Mattia Binotto:


"The mistakes made by the drivers today are things that can happen on a Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, the situation is different. We need to focus more on the car and the setup".


The Swiss engineer admits that the Abu Dhabi track doesn't fully highlight the qualities of the SF90:


"As Seb said, there are limits we're struggling with in these types of curves. The others have been very fast on a track that has generally favored them in previous years. We have room for improvement. This weekend is not guaranteed, but we're here to do our best".


The only goal Ferrari is chasing in the last race of the year is third place in the Drivers' World Championship, with Leclerc needing to recover 11 points from Max Verstappen:


"It's essential to believe in it. In a season like this, with a car like this, reaching at least third place is the right thing to do; otherwise, it would be a shame".


In the extensive interview, Binotto also identifies the most surprising quality of Charles Leclerc:


"I believe it's his hunger for victories. He's a driver who likes to race and drive, but above all, he likes to win. That's fundamental. When he gets in the car, he gets in to stay ahead all the time. The best weekends he had? I think of Belgium; he was always at the front from Friday to Sunday".


He also expresses great respect for Sebastian Vettel:


"He's a great champion, fast, and, above all, he has a lot of experience. You can see that in his race pace today; he still has a lot to teach in terms of tire management over the distance".


Finally, the Team Principal thanks all Ferrari fans:


"Our fans have amazed me once again. What they showed at Monza, in Milan... and the patience they are showing. They support us continuously; that's the most important thing. We are one big family".


Ferrari will close the 2019 season with the fratricidal incident at Interlagos serving as a contrast to the various positive highlights reached by the Maranello team in the second half of the season. 


It was a season rich in ups and downs and certainly fell below expectations compared to what the SF90 showed during the winter tests in Barcelona at the beginning of the championship. Team Principal Mattia Binotto explained the atmosphere within the team after the dramatic collision at Descida do Lago, speaking during the Friday press conference in Abu Dhabi:


"We discussed it together, and we watched the videos. When these things happen, it means something triggered them, and it's essential to understand what that was".


Asked for a comment on Leclerc, who described his season as strange, the Italian engineer expressed himself as follows:


"It's been an intense year; a lot has happened. Looking at it from the team's perspective, technically, I think it's been a straightforward season. If anything strange happened, it was the fact that we expected a bit more performance after the winter tests. We haven't really understood what happened from Barcelona to Australia".


Binotto emphasizes the weaknesses shown by Ferrari during the 2019 season:


"We still don't have the best car in the race, just as we don't have it in the corners".


The Team Principal of Ferrari, however, prefers not to comment on the directives given to the drivers in light of what happened in São Paulo:


"I won't answer; it's something we've talked about among ourselves. They are both excellent drivers, they know very well what they're doing. I think it was an unfortunate situation, but it won't happen again. Even if one driver had more responsibility than the other, I think it's not important. Because this time it might have been Seb, next time Charles. They are two competitive drivers, and both can make mistakes. The important thing is that whatever happened in Brazil, it doesn't happen again. There's not much to discuss. It's something that remains between us".


In the press conference at Yas Marina, Wolff also gives an interesting glimpse into what we might expect in 2020:


"I think it will be the most competitive year of the hybrid era. We have always maintained that keeping the rules stable makes it easier to achieve performance convergence, rather than completely changing everything, and we have seen it. There are three teams capable of winning races and potentially the championship. McLaren has made a big step forward compared to all the other teams, and they could be there, in my opinion. I believe we won't see one team capable of winning ten or twelve races anymore".


Analyzing the current season that is coming to an end, Toto Wolff highlights how the passing of Niki Lauda has overshadowed all the team's sporting successes. As for the near future, it's all still to be written, including the potential renewal of Lewis Hamilton:


"Over the last seven years, Lewis and I have grown a lot together. We arrived together in 2013 and built strong mutual trust. At the same time, we are both part of a much larger organization. We are having these discussions about the future, with him and with many others who have played crucial roles in the team".


On Saturday, November 30, 2019, during the third and final practice session, Max Verstappen set the fastest time using Soft tires. The Dutch driver was 0.074 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton and 0.089 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas. The other Red Bull driver, Alexander Albon, finished fourth, ahead of the two Ferrari drivers, who were using Medium tires. The two Ferrari cars also had a different setup compared to what they tested on Friday. At the end of the third practice session, Nico Hülkenberg was summoned by the stewards for damaging Alexander Albon's car during the same session. No action was taken against him. A few hours later, during Q1, Alexander Albon was the first to set a valid time, even though it was quite slow. This time was then beaten by Lando Norris, and Max Verstappen, the other Red Bull driver, set the fastest time with 1'36"390. Charles Leclerc, in the other Ferrari, came second. Sebastian Vettel made a driving mistake on his first attempt, spinning, while Lewis Hamilton improved the benchmark to 1'36"231. Valtteri Bottas secured third place, while Sebastian Vettel moved up to fifth, despite still having damaged tires from his first attempt. Later, the two Mercedes drivers improved their times. Meanwhile, Daniil Kvyat and Romain Grosjean almost collided, with Grosjean having to brake to avoid hitting Kvyat's car. Pierre Gasly rose to sixth place. The other French driver, Romain Grosjean, sets the fifteenth time, which is sufficient to advance to the second phase. The standings are revolutionized in the final moments, with improvements from Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo, and Sergio Pérez, while Alex Albon sets the second-best time. Therefore, besides Romain Grosjean, the drivers of Alfa Romeo Racing and Williams are eliminated. Albon is still the first driver to set a valid time in the second session. Hamilton quickly beats the time set by the Thai driver, lapping in 1'35"634. The World Champion uses Medium tires, unlike the Ferrari drivers who use Soft tires. Valtteri Bottas, penalized on the grid, also uses Medium tires and sets the second-fastest time. Further back, Carlos Sainz Jr. sets an excellent time, placing himself in the standings between the two Red Bull drivers. The top ten provisional positions are completed by the two Renault drivers and Sergio Pérez. 


Shortly after, Pierre Gasly moves up to tenth place, Daniel Ricciardo slightly improves, while Daniil Kvyat remains further behind. Lando Norris climbs to eighth place, thereby eliminating Pierre Gasly. Max Verstappen attempts, unsuccessfully, to set a time with Soft tires, unlike Leclerc, who improves using a set of Soft tires, which will be the compound Leclerc starts the race on. Nico Hülkenberg improves in the last attempt. Pérez, Gasly, Stroll, Kvyat, and Magnussen do not advance to the final stage. The German driver from Renault is also the first to set a valid time in Q3, which is then beaten by the two McLaren drivers. Lewis Hamilton tops the time chart, lapping in 1'34"828. The Briton is 0.2 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas and 0.5 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel. The final sector appears to penalize the Ferraris: Charles Leclerc is fourth, but Max Verstappen manages to surpass him, setting the second-best time. In the final part of Q3, Daniel Ricciardo, who exploits only one fast attempt, sets the seventh-best time. As the other drivers attempt a second quick lap, there is a misunderstanding between the two Ferraris: Vettel, too slow, also slows down Leclerc, who takes the checkered flag and cannot complete his second lap. Hamilton improves his time to 1'34"779, setting a new track record. Bottas, still penalized, holds the second-fastest time; behind him are Verstappen and Vettel, who, thanks to the penalty on the Finn, move up one place on the grid, just like all the other drivers. Hamilton secures his 88th career pole position after a nine-race wait, marking the record for the most pole positions in Formula 1 he has held since 2017. After the qualifiers, the FIA fines the Toro Rosso team 5,000 euros for an unsafe release as Daniil Kvyat was sent on the track as Romain Grosjean was approaching. The two drivers did not collide. Lewis Hamilton has clinched his fifth pole position of the season, reaffirming the record for the most pole positions in Formula 1, which he has held since 2017. However, the double power unit replacement will prevent Valtteri Bottas from capitalizing on his second-best time obtained during the final fast lap challenge of the year. This means that Mercedes won't have a front row lockout to maximize the result of the season's final race, which saw Mercedes clinch their sixth consecutive Constructors' World Championship.


"Honestly, I'm very pleased, and I feel very fresh and super excited to be on the front row. It's really crazy because it's my 249th race, and I would have never thought I'd do so many. And at the moment, one might think that I get less excited, but I'm like a kid. I love what I do, I love the competition. The car has made me fight a bit to get back on the front row, so I'm really enjoying this pole position. Closing with such a high, even though there's still work to do tomorrow, is excellent".


The British driver sees the battle for the win open with Red Bull and Ferrari:


"We have no idea what will happen in terms of strategy and all the other factors that will come into play tomorrow. They are very fast, especially in this final part of the season".


Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, congratulates his teammate:


"My lap was good, but I think Lewis had a bit more today. I still pushed to the maximum; I only did one attempt in Q2 to save a set of tires for tomorrow (given the penalty, ed.). I think it will be a fun race, and I'll try to recover as many positions as possible. It will be a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it. We seem very competitive this weekend. It's positive to see that as a team, we were strong in qualifying today; it has been a weakness for us lately. We are certainly in good shape as a team, and this is promising for tomorrow because Sunday is always the most crucial test for us".


Max Verstappen collected the maximum from the Abu Dhabi qualifying, finishing in third place ahead of the two Ferraris and gaining a front-row start due to Valtteri Bottas's penalty, who will start from the back of the grid. Max Verstappen does not hide that it won't be easy to overtake Lewis Hamilton, who appeared in great form with his Mercedes on the Yas Marina streets:


"We will try. It will be difficult. Mercedes is fast here. Qualifying was pretty good; we gave it everything, but it wasn't enough. I'm still very satisfied to be third. I don't know what else to say: today has been pretty good, but not good enough compared to the Mercedes. Overturning everything in the race? We will try. I don't think it will be easy, but we will attempt it as a team. We'll try to put pressure on them and see what happens".


Despite both World Championships having been decided for some time, Toto Wolff's hunger for success does not seem to wane. Mercedes' team principal expresses his great satisfaction with the virtual front row secured by Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifiers, marking their sixth consecutive front row at the Yas Marina Circuit. He looks forward, already aiming to finish the season in the best possible way:


"It's been a bit of time since our last front-row lockout, so this result means a lot to us. We have also reinforced our record here in Abu Dhabi, a track very suited to our car, so it's really perfect. Qualifying is always an interesting test because our rivals have shown they have a strong package in one-lap pace, especially in the latter part of the season, and it seems like we've stepped back a bit with our performances here. Valtteri did a great job today, even though he will start from the back tomorrow (due to the penalty, ed.). Even if there were a complete grid reversal, we would still be on pole. I think it will be interesting to see him climb up through the field, and I hope he can finish the race within the top five".


Sebastian Vettel closed the Abu Dhabi qualifying with the fifth-best time after a Q3 that might give room for speculation. Ferrari's engineers decided to delay the last attempt of their drivers, leaving it to the end. The two drivers were then urged by the team to increase their pace in the preparation lap. However, Sebastian Vettel had Alex Albon ahead of him and, despite trying to minimize the gap, just like Leclerc regarding his teammate, he was the only Ferrari driver not to take the checkered flag and complete his lap, which still proved to be unimpressive. When asked about the possibility of overtaking Albon, the German driver said:


"I don't think it's right. He had another car ahead and was trying to create some margin, and probably there was another one still ahead. It's a shame for us because we were just in the queue, looking for the best track, but it didn't work out".


Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, added:


"We took the risk of closing the group to have the track in the best conditions, but the risk didn't pay off. We knew we were on the limit, we communicated that to the drivers, but in the final sector, it's hard to overtake; when you find traffic, there's nothing left but to follow. Unfortunately, Leclerc couldn't launch his attempt".


Sebastian Vettel also appreciates the choice to start with Soft tires:


"I don't see that the mediums have worked better for me this weekend; we'll see tomorrow. It will be difficult for us because we are not fast enough. We lose exactly in the places where we've lost throughout the year, which are all the slow and medium-speed corners. In the first two sectors, there are enough straights and not so many slow corners, so I'm okay. However, in the last sector, our tires also wear out, and we have less grip compared to others, so we lose a lot of ground. It's not a surprise, and it will be difficult, but we can promise that we will fight together as much as possible to achieve the best result".


Due to the penalty that Valtteri Bottas will have to serve on the starting grid for the power unit replacement, Leclerc will start third, and Vettel will start fourth on the cleaner side of the track. Leclerc will have the medium tires like Hamilton and Verstappen. At the end of Q2, Leclerc asked for medium tires for the second run, with which he improved his time from the first attempt. Mattia Binotto says in this regard:


"Charles had a better feeling with the mediums since the morning, so at the end of Q2, we decided to follow two different strategies with the drivers. Vettel, on the other hand, believes that the soft tire is the best choice for the start, and I am happy to have the cars with different strategies at the start because it can be important. Evaluating the degradation of the soft tires in the first stint compared to what the others, including Leclerc, with the medium tires, will have, will be crucial".


Speaking about next year's car, Ferrari's team principal adds:


"The car for next year is progressing well. The structural part is now defined, while the engine is on the test bench for reliability tests. Adding downforce also means adding resistance to forward movement, so we could risk losing the advantage in terms of speed. In the end, it will be necessary to find the right balance".


The Swiss engineer also emphasizes the need to learn from their mistakes:


"We have stayed united in difficult times; the team is learning this. We are Ferrari, and those who work with us are passionate. Sometimes you have to understand whether to focus more on the current season or the next one, but emotions like those at Monza push you to do more. You should never give up, work hard, and do what needs to be done without asking too many questions".


Binotto is then asked to express his opinion on Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc looking ahead to 2020:


"Both start with the ambition to win the championship. We will take that into account, and we will talk to them very transparently when the time comes. I expect a different situation at the beginning of the season compared to this year".


On Sunday, December 1, 2019, just before the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the FIA launched an investigation into Charles Leclerc's car as the amount of fuel present was different from what Ferrari had declared. Not surprisingly, after the race, the FIA fined Ferrari €50,000 for the inappropriate declaration of 4.88 kg less fuel loaded into Charles Leclerc's car. In any case, at the start, Lewis Hamilton started from pole position and maintained the lead. The British driver was followed by Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Alexander Albon, and the two McLarens. During the first lap, Leclerc managed to pass Verstappen. However, the Dutch driver resisted Vettel's attack and retained the third position. In the second lap, Vettel finally passed Verstappen, who quickly regained third place. Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas, who started last, moved up to 14th place at the end of the second lap. Hamilton immediately increased his lead over Leclerc, and by the 10th lap, the World Champion had a lead of over 5 seconds over the Monegasque, 8 seconds over Verstappen, and 12 seconds over Vettel. Bottas continued his climb and entered the top ten, overtaking Sergio Pérez after a few laps of waiting. Bottas's comeback was limited by the fact that the race direction didn't allow the use of DRS in the first minutes due to a technical problem. During the 12th lap, the two Ferraris, one behind the other, made a pit stop, switching to hard tires. During Vettel's tire change, there was a small inaccuracy that cost the German a few seconds. On the 13th lap, Alexander Albon also entered the pits. Therefore, the order changed, with Lewis Hamilton leading, followed by Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Nico Hülkenberg, Valtteri Bottas (who hadn't changed tires yet), Sebastian Vettel, Alex Albon, and Sergio Pérez. Vettel tried to overtake Bottas, but he couldn't pass the Mercedes driver. 


Shortly after, during the 18th lap, the race director announced that the DRS could be used again. Bottas took advantage of this and passed Hülkenberg. During the 25th lap, Max Verstappen also made a pit stop, fitting hard tires. The Dutch driver re-entered the race just behind Charles Leclerc. Lewis Hamilton waited until the 26th lap to mount new tires, also opting for hard compounds. He comfortably retained the lead with over a 7-second advantage over Leclerc, more than 12 seconds over Verstappen, 26 seconds over Bottas, and 30 seconds over Vettel. On the 29th lap, the other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, also made a pit stop. The Finn followed the same strategy as the other drivers, fitting hard tires. After rejoining the race, Valtteri Bottas was sixth, just behind Alex Albon. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen closed in on Charles Leclerc and passed him during the 31st lap. Leclerc didn't seem to have a good pace, so on the 38th lap, he decided to make another pit stop, followed once again by Sebastian Vettel. Leclerc opted for medium tires, while Vettel chose a set of soft tires. Leclerc re-entered the race in third place, just ahead of both Albon and Bottas. Vettel, however, dropped two positions. During the 39th lap, Valtteri Bottas passed Alexander Albon. But in the final laps, the Thai driver had to fend off Sebastian Vettel's comeback, with Vettel successfully overtaking the Red Bull driver during the 53rd lap. Lewis Hamilton won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, achieving his sixth Grand Slam in his career (pole position, victory, fastest lap, and leading the race for all laps). Hamilton reached 413 points for the season, a new record for a driver in a single year. The World Champion also set a new record for the number of Grand Prix races with at least one lap led in a single season, with 19 such races. Nothing unexpected hindered the British driver, who said at the end of the race:


"Honestly, I am proud, but also incredibly grateful to this amazing team. Mercedes keeps pushing, and they have continued to do so throughout the season. Who would have thought that we would become so strong in the late season? Even after winning the championship, we wanted to keep our heads down, trying to extract more potential from this beautiful machine they have created. It's a real piece of art they've made. I am grateful to this team. We travel all over the world and always see so many people who continue to inspire me, keep me motivated, so I want to thank everyone who's here and everyone at home. Thanks for the support. I'm too happy today. Young challengers? Many young talents are emerging throughout the grid, from second to eighth place, nearly all of them are very young. I am very proud to compete in a period where many young talents are emerging, guys who are doing a phenomenal job. For me, it's a privilege to race at this time, and I hope to battle with them even more in the future. Hopefully, we can do that from next year. Winter? I want to be with my family".


In the post-race interviews following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, who will turn 35 in January, was teased about his age. He responded:


"Is this victory a message to the young rivals? Well, they can take it as a message if they want. Everyone talks about the young drivers, but I am still young. I don't understand why they call me that! My father is about to turn 60, but he's doing great, and I feel like a 20-year-old. So... of course, these guys are doing a great job, and I expect them to be even stronger next year".


The Mercedes champion is determined to keep up the fight in 2020:


"If you look at the grid, there were so many young drivers behind me. The Red Bull drivers are doing well, the young Ferrari driver is doing well, and they have already won races. I'm pleased to represent Formula 1 as someone slightly older and still continue to win".


Max Verstappen had to admit that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were too fast in Abu Dhabi, and he couldn't challenge his rival, despite starting from the front row. The young Dutch driver said:


"Lewis and Mercedes were too fast. So, we just had to make the best race we could. I had some problems, but even without them, I wouldn't have been able to catch Lewis. I didn't feel great on the track, and at a certain point, when I was in second place, I just tried to close the gap as best as possible".




"If you look at the constructors' championship, we're third, and in the drivers' championship, we finished third ahead of the two Ferraris. From this perspective, I think we can be happy. It was a positive conclusion, and now we can focus on being more competitive and aiming for the title next year".


Charles Leclerc finished third in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, marking a solid race. He acknowledged that there is still room for improvement:


"I'm happy, finishing the season on the podium makes me happy before going on vacation. But there's still something missing in the race. We need to understand this, why it happened this year and make sure it doesn't happen next year".


Leclerc identified tire management as one of the areas to improve for 2020:


"We struggle more with tire degradation compared to others. I still can't say what it depends on, but the break will help with that, and I'm confident the team will find the solution".


Regarding the missed opportunity to finish the 2019 season in third place in the overall standings, Leclerc said:


"Two races ago, I absolutely wanted to finish third, and there were good chances, but it turned out this way. There have certainly been ups and downs. I've learned from the lows, and I need to improve on that for next year because it will be an important season. Every time I make a mistake, I analyze it thoroughly. I'm sure next season will be the right one, and we have to continue working well, as we have done this season".


When asked to reflect on his first year with the Ferrari team, Charles Leclerc said:


"It was a lifelong dream, winning in Monza, seven pole positions... it's a lot for me. I've dreamed of this since I was a child. It's significant, but Ferrari should always be this way. The first season is always very special, and I will never forget it. Now, I'm focusing on 2020 to do even better".


Starting fourth on the grid, with a clean side of the track and soft tires, Sebastian Vettel might have hoped to gain some positions at the start and during the first lap. However, this was not the case, and the German driver had a race far from the podium, with two pit stops. The first pit stop took longer than expected due to difficulties with tightening a tire. After the second pit stop, Vettel dropped to sixth place. With a good overtaking maneuver against Alexander Albon, Vettel managed to secure fifth place in the final classification, replicating his final ranking in the drivers' championship.


Sebastian Vettel shared his thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the technical issue that led to the absence of the DRS (Drag Reduction System) during the early part of the race:


"This race was a bit like our season. It was tough. The start went very well, but then there was nothing more to do. In the first 3-4 laps with the Soft tires, I was faster than the others, but without DRS, it was very difficult because Verstappen had the slipstream of Charles".


Vettel expressed criticism over the absence of DRS due to a technical issue:


"I don't know why we didn't have it; maybe someone was asleep a bit. But I want to absolve my mechanics for the tire change".


He acknowledged the challenges faced by the team's pit stops and praised the hardworking mechanics:


"I felt sorry for them; our pit stops weren't strong this year and even today. But it's not the fault of the mechanics; they are all a team, the heart of the team. I regret this, but after that episode, it was difficult for us to achieve great things in this race".


The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, being the last race of the 2019 season, reflected the challenges and highlights of Ferrari's season. Mattia Binotto, the Team Principal of Ferrari, admitted the difficulties they faced during the race:


"Charles had a 2.5-second advantage over Verstappen, who was increasing his pace and could have reached him within undercut range. For us, stopping early and switching to Hard tires was a good way to stay ahead, secure the position, and go to the end. It didn't turn out that way. With fresher tires, Verstappen was able to overtake Charles. We then decided to stop Leclerc a second time, not because the tires couldn't go to the end, but because he could do it without losing position, and it was definitely safer this way. We knew this wouldn't be our best race, looking at Friday and Saturday. We had to try something. If we look at the championship, the only thing we could try was to gain third place in the driver's standings with Charles, starting from 11 points behind. It was a very challenging goal, and something had to be tried. Finishing third in the race with Charles is, all in all, the position of our car today".


Binotto also explained Ferrari's position regarding the issue of the fuel on Leclerc's car, which emerged just minutes before the race's start:


"We still need to understand exactly what happened, which is why we will go to listen to the stewards at 7:45 PM. We are calm, we know the procedures, and I am convinced we will be able to explain any misunderstandings. I think it is not a problem from a technical point of view but more of a sports matter".


On December 23, 2019, the Ferrari Scuderia's season ended when Charles Leclerc's contract with the team was renewed. It was a Christmas gift, although it's unclear who gave it and to whom. Leclerc's contract extension ties him to Ferrari until the end of the 2024 season. Ferrari expressed their satisfaction and excitement about this extension:


"We are pleased to announce that we have extended the contract with Charles Leclerc, the talent that the Italian team nurtured from 2016 within the Ferrari Driver Academy. He will now be associated with the team until the end of the 2024 season".


But it's not just the matter of the championship secured in front of Ferrari's lead driver: the Monegasque driver won in Belgium and Italy, securing ten podiums and seven pole positions. Translating these statistics into the real world, it means that Charles Leclerc was, in fact, faster than Sebastian Vettel in 2019. This obviously stings the German, even though the record of the youngest driver in Formula 1 history to secure a pole remains with Vettel, as in Bahrain, Leclerc was only slightly older than Sebastian. So what's next? Aims are high, indeed sky-high: the Monegasque driver seems as if he just came out of a catechism course, but when he lowers his visor, he becomes fierce. Exactly what Ferrari needs. The Team Principal of Ferrari, Mattia Binotto, knows it well:


"Charles has been a part of our family since 2016, and we are more than proud of the results we are reaping from our Academy. It is, therefore, a great pleasure to announce that he will be with us for many years to come, and we are eager to write new pages of the Prancing Horse's history with him".


"The decision and the desire to extend the contract with Charles have appeared increasingly natural to us race after race, with the aim of ensuring our collaboration with our driver for the next five seasons. This is evidence of the commitment of the Scuderia and Charles to firmly bind their names for the near future".


And Leclerc? After the usual dull and expected formal statements:


"I am extremely happy to renew with Scuderia Ferrari".




"The season just concluded as a driver for the most prestigious team in Formula 1 has been a dream year for me".


He throws down the gauntlet:


"I can't wait to deepen the already strong relationship that binds me to the team after an intense and emotionally rich 2019. I look forward to the future, ready to start the next season".


To whom is he addressing this message? You can guess. But if you go hunting for the solution, you don't have to look very far.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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