Verstappen: Leclerc fuel ‘error’ wasn’t a mistake

Jos Verstappen believes Charles Leclerc’s fuel irregularity in Abu Dhabi wasn’t a Ferrari “error”, and instead intentional.

There was drama in the desert before the Abu Dhabi GP when the FIA announced that there was a “significantly” different amount of fuel in the tank of Leclerc’s SF90 than had been declared.

Red Bull principal Christian Horner, the team which Jos’ son Max Verstappen drives for, believed a disqualification was incoming for Leclerc, but instead the FIA allowed the 22-year-old to keep his P3 after the chequered flag, though Ferrari were fined 50,000 Euros.

Speaking to Ziggo Sport, Verstappen said: “You know that this was not a calculation error.

“Ferrari does not just make such calculation errors.

“It is a sensitive subject in Formula 1, I do not want to burn my fingers on it. Next year, however, the rules really need to be tightened.”

This isn’t the first time that a Verstappen has questioned Ferrari’s attention to the rules – they seemed to lose the performance they had found after the summer break in Austin following a series of engine-related technical directives, and Max Verstappen said it’s what happens when you stop “cheating”.

The Scuderia pleaded their innocence back then and continue to do so following this latest incident.

Speaking to Autosport.com, Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto said: “It is not the first time we are doing it. This season we have been checked at least 10 times.

“So it’s not the first time and it has always been OK, but today we’ve got a discrepancy.”

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Conclusions from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton’s dominant Abu Dhabi win offered a snapshot of his 2019 season while Ferrari once again ran into trouble.

Technical problem gives glimpse into life without DRS

Abu Dhabi’s post-race fireworks are always a spectacular sight, but Yas Marina also delivered on the track in a race defined by a slow burn without the drag reduction system in the early phase and some brilliant overtaking in the last couple of laps. A technical issue meant race control could not activate DRS for the first dozen laps or so, and the on-track action was compelling as a result.

Sebastian Vettel’s battle with Valtteri Bottas was particularly noteworthy as two evenly matched frontrunners had to rely on guile and skill in the braking zone. This made for a rather pleasing departure from the usual DRS overtake that is completed well before drivers have to stomp on the brakes.

While the mid part of the grand prix was fairly sedate, it came alive as the laps counted down with the likes of Vettel, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz – who had fresher rubber – attacking Alex Albon, Lando Norris and Nico Hulkenberg respectively. Both the Ferrari, Racing Point and McLaren drivers completed dramatic late moves, whereas Bottas got to within a second of Charles Leclerc but couldn’t quite knick the final podium place from the Ferrari on-track.

The 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was by no means a classic but, for better or worse, it did highlight how beguiling racing can be even without DRS, while also underscoring the importance of Pirelli tyres.

Hamilton caps peerless season with peerless weekend

Lewis Hamilton won from pole position for just the third time all season. Given that he won 11 times in 2019, it is a staggering statistic that shows just how good the Brit’s race craft has been and how innovative Mercedes have had to be in race situations as for large portions of the campaign they have not had the quickest car in qualifying trim.

In Abu Dhabi, Hamilton broke clear of the pack immediately, and was almost two seconds clear after the first lap. It was quite obvious that no one would stop the six-time Champion from winning to cap another fantastic season for the indomitable Silver Arrows and the exceptional W10, which Hamilton described as “a work of art”.

Farewell to the Hulk and Kubica

“It’s been a pleasure working with you over the last three years,” said Hulkenberg’s engineer on team radio after the race. “I can’t say the same,” replied the German, who then said he was “pulling your leg.” The German goes into 2020 without a drive and at 32 is unlikely to add to his 177 race starts – and is even more unlikely to ever score that elusive podium.

A fan-led effort from Reddit users to vote him as driver of the day was successful, giving Hulkenberg a mini victory of sorts in his final grand prix. But this was a race that characterises Hulkenberg’s career as Sainz passed him on the last lap to steal the final point. So much promise with so little to show at the end of the day.

Robert Kubica, meanwhile, finished last yet again, yet his F1 comeback after a horrific set of injuries was one of the stories of the season. The Pole is clearly not the driver he was before and just making it back to the grid was a superhuman feat from a driver who, had he not been injured, could well have been a World Champion.

Perez finishes on a high

The team formerly known as Force India has been through a tumultuous 18 months or so. With some stability in place, the team has started to prove its capabilities. Perez, who started in 10th on the hard tyre, drove another fine race to nurse his tyres deep into the grand prix. The Mexican is a master at managing tyres and maximising results, and his seventh place was a strong candidate for drive of the day.

Tears at McLaren

McLaren also delivered a memorable radio exchange with Norris admitted “I think I’m crying” after his race engineer’s emotional speech about how good it has been to work with the young Brit through the year.

The Woking-based outfit have a real gem in Norris who outqualified Sainz 11-10 through 2019. The youngster lacked his team-mate’s race pace and consistency on Sundays but this was an excellent debut campaign for Norris – and more importantly he has played a key role in McLaren’s rebuilding.

More questions for Ferrari

From the botched qualifying to Leclerc’s fuel irregularity to the ill-judged early pit stop and problem at Vettel’s first stop, Ferrari made more mistakes in one grand prix weekend than Mercedes and Red Bull make collectively over half a season.

Leclerc did well to finish third on the road despite a litany of issues and said after the race that he is eager to deliver for Ferrari in 2020. But for that to happen Ferrari will first have to deliver for him.

And in 105 days’ time we will know whether they have.

Richard F Rose

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Abu Dhabi Grand Prix driver ratings

Lewis Hamilton topped the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix driver ratings with one final masterclass in 2019; plus plenty of strong displays from the midfield.

For one last time this season, Late Braking cast their beady eye over the grid at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Lewis Hamilton – A crowning race on an epic season. Lewis Hamilton finished off 2019 in style as he secured pole position, fastest lap, race win and led every lap along the way. A Grand Slam to add to an already mightily successful season.

Hamilton and Mercedes proved untouchable on the day as they made their advantage count in the final sector and managed their rivals in the first two. It ended up being a 16.7 second victory for Hamilton on a day he hardly needed to get out of second gear. 10

Max Verstappen – A solid day for Verstappen who can look at the result and be satisfied knowing that was the best he could have hoped for. On the day, Mercedes proved a little too much to handle but he can be happy with how he saw off the threat of Leclerc.

There were concerns for a time as Verstappen spoke of car issues following his one and only pit stop but he remained quick throughout to claim third in the championship. 8

Charles Leclerc – After four races away from the podium, Leclerc bounced back in Abu Dhabi as he finished as the best two-stopper in the field.

Leclerc got off to a lightning start on the soft tyres but having to pit earlier than his two rivals cost him and he eventually pitted twice.

After a brilliant spell just after the summer break, Ferrari’s race pace has dropped off towards the end of the year, Leclerc will be hoping that turns around come March. 8

Valtteri Bottas – Coming from the very back of the grid is never an easy task, even when you have the best car on the grid as Bottas did. The loss of DRS for the first part of the race might have hindered his progress slightly but the Finn kept his cool.

Bottas timed his moves to perfection and avoided any disastrous scenarios. Bottas’ approach to overtaking can often be seen as conservative and patient but it has its benefits and he was justly rewarded. 9

Sebastian Vettel – Ups and downs for Vettel across 2019 and unfortunately this one belongs to the latter. Trailing narrowly to his teammate, Vettel was the victim of a poor Ferrari double-stacking effort, he then got stuck in a group behind Hulkenberg and never recovered from there.

2019 marks the first time Vettel has lost to a teammate when basked in red, he’ll look to turn that around in the new year. 6

Alex Albon – The start of Albon’s Red Bull career has featured encouraging signs but Abu Dhabi was not a good way to end as he was woefully off the pace. Finishing 53 seconds behind his teammate in 55 laps, he failed to keep pace with the other top runners.

At the end of the day, Verstappen managed to beat both Ferraris and Bottas, whereas Albon lost to all three. 5

Sergio Perez – Vintage Perez once more as he performed his trademark long first stint that focused on tyre preservation before making some clinical overtakes in the second half of the race. The result means Perez ticks over the 50 mark for the season, a solid total considering the car’s shortcomings in qualifying. 8

Lando Norris – A strong end to the season for Norris as he secured the qualifying head-to-head against his teammate and then beat him in the race by two positions.

Others around him came into the pits as their tyres struggled but Norris persevered and only gave up one position to Perez. 8

Daniil Kvyat – Outside of the Williams drivers, Kvyat was the only driver to start the race on the hard tyres. As the McLaren and Renault drivers came into the pits early on, Kvyat went all the way to lap 40 before making his stop. He then picked up positions as other drivers’ tyres fell away. 8

Carlos Sainz – Results around him meant he only needed one point to secure 6th in the championship and he did so with a gutsy late braking overtaking move on Hulkenberg on the final lap.

This might not be his best race of the season but it was entertaining as he never seemed to be more than a second clear of the car behind and never more than a second away from the car ahead. 7

Daniel Ricciardo – Undercutting the early pit stops of the McLaren duo, Ricciardo found himself in a race-long duel with the McLaren guys but he failed to beat either as he slipped out of the points, nonetheless Ricciardo has had a solid first year with the team, even if the car hasn’t been what he might’ve expected. 7

Nico Hulkenberg – In potentially his last F1 race, Hulkenberg was unable to walk away with points as he lost P10 on the final lap.

Operating a different strategy to his rivals, Hulkenberg was seemingly in a good position to finish best of the rest but he couldn’t make his way past Norris, at which point he likely would have formed a gap. At least the fans gave him driver of the day. 7

Kimi Raikkonen – After their best team result of the year in Brazil, it was a crash back down to earth for the Alfa duo as they struggled all weekend long. Raikkonen did at least put up more of a fight to come home P13. 7

Kevin Magnussen – Magnussen quite possibly got his best start of the year as he soared up by five positions on the opening lap. Whilst he did his best to keep cars behind him, they all eventually got by although an 18 second win over his teammate is impressive. 6

Romain Grosjean – After qualifying on Saturday, Grosjean spoke about the VF-19 and being less than reluctant to say goodbye to it. After another dismal race on Sunday, he can now draw a line under 2019 and focus on next year. 5

Antonio Giovinazzi – It’s been an improved second half of the season for Giovinazzi although this one isn’t going to be included in his highlights reel. A two stop race resulted in a distant 16th place, three positions and 46 seconds behind his teammate. 5

George Russell – It’s been a tough season for Russell who ends the year as the only driver not to score points although there is little question as to who has been the better Williams driver this year. A 21-0 record in qualifying might be small consolation but it’s those small victories that you have to take in his spot. 7

Pierre Gasly – With a chance of P6 in the championship, Gasly’s fate was out of his hands from the off as he was involved in a first corner incident that saw him dive into the pits after the opening lap.

No safety car meant no chance of recovery as he spent the rest of the race in relative obscurity. 5

Robert Kubica – The comeback season for Kubica might not have brought us the challenger of years gone by but it’s the fact he even made it to the grid in the first place that deserves recognition and praise.

The race itself was largely par for the course, Kubica led Russell early but quickly fell behind, never to get close again. 5

Did not finish

Lance Stroll – The one and only retirement from the race, Stroll pit after just five laps after involvement in the first corner incident. There was no coming back from there as Stroll was near-last by the time they called it a day. 5

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Vettel mocks himself and Hamilton rumours

Getting a serious answer out of Sebastian Vettel after Abu Dhabi proved difficult, in fact he just mocked everything.

The 2019 F1 season came to a close with Lewis Hamilton cruising to victory at Yas Marina Circuit, a fitting way for the now six-time World Champion to end a dominant campaign.

Vettel meanwhile pulled a late move on Alex Albon to secure P5. It has been a tough season for the four-time World Champion with Charles Leclerc coming in and becoming the first team-mate to beat Vettel in Ferrari colours, scoring 264 points to Vettel’s 240.

The German racer has been forced to bat away rumours of a departure from F1 after 2019, even though he is contracted to Ferrari until the end of 2020.

It would seem though that the relief of 2019 being over manifested into sarcasm once Vettel reached the media pen after the Abu Dhabi GP.

“Holiday, I think I was already doing a holiday next year,” he said with a smile when asked about his plans for 2021 and beyond.

“I heard before that I’m stopping.

“I don’t know who was the one [to start the rumour], but seems they know more than me.

“Since I guess you journalists are always right, it will hit me probably in the next weeks.”

Vettel was also quizzed on the rumours of Lewis Hamilton perhaps joining Ferrari from 2021, but that also received a clever response.

“I think he’s already a Ferrari driver. No? So no change,” he joked.

“I think he’s a good customer. He owns more than one.”

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Leclerc retains podium, Ferrari fined for fuel breach

Charles Leclerc has avoided disqualification from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but Ferrari has been fined for a fuel breach.

Ferrari were referred to the stewards before the lights even went out at the Yas Marina circuit, with FIA Formula 1 technical delegate Jo Bauer noting there was a “significant difference between the declaration of the team and the amount of fuel inside the car”.

Due to the matter arising so close to the race start, Leclerc was permitted to start the race and finished on the final step of the podium behind race winner Lewis Hamilton and second-placed Max Verstappen.

That result now officially stands after the FIA just issued Ferrari with a 50,000 Euro fine.

The FIA statement read:

‘[Technical directive] /014-19 required teams to declare the amount of fuel that they intended to put in the car for the laps to the grid, the formation lap, the race, the in-lap and any fire-ups that would be needed.

‘The Technical Delegate was able to confirm the fuel mass put in the tank by checking in accordance with the procedure specified in TD/014-19.

‘There was a difference of 4.88kgs between the team’s declaration for car 16 and the Technical Delegate’s measured fuel mass.

‘The team’s declaration was therefore inaccurate and constituted a breach of the Technical Directive. This in turn constitutes an infringement of Article 12.1.1.i of the International Sporting Code.

‘Accordingly, the stewards determined that the team should be fined 50,000 Euros for its inaccurate declaration.’

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Hamilton: Abu Dhabi win was ‘perfect execution’

Lewis Hamilton was looking for the “perfect execution” of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and he got exactly that.

The Mercedes man capped off his sixth title-winning season with a cruise to victory where he finished 16.7 seconds clear of Max Verstappen and set a new race lap record at Yas Marina Circuit.

With that result he also made himself the only driver to score points at every race in 2019, and he admitted that he found the “perfect execution” he was looking for.

“I don’t think I was thinking of anything else except being pitch-perfect through the race,” he told reporters after the race.

“When you’re out in front like that, it’s easy to drop the ball. I think of people who have been there before me, I think of things I have done in the past, I was just trying to be pitch-perfect, each corner, beat, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, and not let it stop.

“I was looking for that perfect execution, and I think I got as close to it as I could today. Really, really happy. But now I can lean back a little bit and start thinking about the future.”

Hamilton used the race to experiment with his driving and was happy to see that it worked –  he also praised Mercedes for keeping their level so high even when the titles were won already.

“I would say today I was just trying to advance in a lot of areas, like tyre management, see if I can do that any better, extract any more from the car, make it go longer, and different things, and it worked,” he explained.

“We’re continuing to work hard, even after we’ve won the championship. It’s inspiring for me to see the guys continue to push.”

Max Verstappen, who secured P3 in the Championship at the Abu Dhabi GP, has already stated his intention to challenge for the title next season, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc expressed his surprise at getting the better of Sebastian Vettel in his first season with the team.

The young guns are certainly on their way up, and Hamilton welcomes the challenge.

“There’s a lot of youngsters coming through and, if you look at the grid, from second to seventh or eighth was all super youngsters,” the 34-year-old told Sky Sports.

“So really proud to be in a period of time where there are such great young people coming through.

“These guys have been doing a phenomenal job and I feel privileged to be in the period of time that they are here and looking forward to more close battles with us in the future. I hope it gets close for us next year.”

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P3 is good, but Verstappen wants more

Max Verstappen is pleased to have secured P3 in the Drivers’ Championship, but for him the true goal is fighting for the title next season.

The Red Bull driver took P3 by 14 points over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc after finishing second in Abu Dhabi, capping off a strong first year for the Red Bull/Honda partnership and giving Verstappen his highest finishing position in an F1 Championship.

But while that’s a nice achievement, Verstappen made it clear that the true goal is to deny Mercedes a seventh Constructors’ and Drivers’ double in a row.

“I think overall the pace was good. There was not so much more we could have done,” Verstappen told reporters when speaking about the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

“The strategy was good from the team, and I passed the Ferrari on the track and we could do our own race. Of course very happy to finish the season like this.

“Austria. I think also the first victory for Honda in the V6 era, that was very emotional. And as a team on-track, I think with so many Dutch fans as well, that will be the highlight.

“As a team we want to move forward, so next year we want to fight for the title of course.

“To be in front of the Ferraris in the championship for me I think was a good achievement. We had good wins, a few poles, but for next year, we of course want to fight for the title, so we have to step it up. But I think as a team we can be pleased with the improvement we made through the season.”

Verstappen’s team-mate Alex Albon ended the race in P6 having been passed by Sebastian Vettel late on – he put his struggles down to pitting too early and not having DRS.

“We tried to overcut him [Vettel] to begin with, and to be honest I just think we pitted a bit too early,” he admitted.

“The DRS wasn’t working and we just got stuck behind Nico – I think there was a train of us – so we lost a lot of time.

“The tyres did go, but actually I think the pace was pretty good, and then Seb pitted right in front of me and came back at me. ”

The Thai driver was beaten to P6 in the Driver’s Championship by Carlos Sainz, but says he doesn’t mind.

“No, it’s fine. I’m not too worried,” he concluded.

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Leclerc didn’t expect to outscore Vettel in first year

Charles Leclerc says he didn’t expect to be able to beat Sebastian Vettel in his first season with Ferrari

The Monegasque driver finished ahead of Vettel with more wins and pole positions, but when asked whether at the start of the year if he’d believe it if someone told him he’d beat his team-mate, he said he wouldn’t have.

“No, no I didn’t have that confidence,” Leclerc said after the race in Abu Dhabi.

“I always thought that if I did the job correctly success would come, but I mean Seb is a four-time World Champion, so it would have been difficult to believe it.

“I’m very happy with my first season. There’s been regrets and mistakes, but I’ve learned from the mistakes and I’m sure it will be useful for 2020 to have a better season.”

Leclerc held off Valtteri Bottas to finish the final race of the season on the final step of the podium and, in the on-track interview afterwards, he paid tribute to Vettel.

“I’ve learned a huge amount thanks to Seb,” he added.

“It’s been a great year, a realisation of the dream since I was a child to be with Ferrari and in Formula 1 and it’s up to me to get better and give them the success they deserve.”

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Binotto wants to focus on 2020 car, not Hamilton

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto was once again asked about Lewis Hamilton after the race in Abu Dhabi, but his main focus is on the 2020 car.

The latest flurry of Hamilton to Ferrari swept in over the course of the weekend with Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport reporting that Hamilton has met with the Scuderia on two occasions throughout the 2019 season.

Binotto was quizzed again after the season finale at the Yas Marina circuit, but shut down the Hamilton question by instead turning the focus onto the 2020 car.

“For now, let’s think about the car next year,” Binotto responded in an interview with Sky Sports Italy.

“The priority is to work on the 2020 car, which is well under way, but there is still the aerodynamic side of the car to be worked on.

“There is still a lot of work to do and we are not going on vacation after the season because of this.

Binotto also said that he is seeing plenty of motivation from Vettel ahead of a renewed battle next season and said there are no doubts whatsoever about his immediate future with the team.

“Seeing Charles on the podium was important because he has had a great World Championship and we are very happy with him,” Binotto added.

“Sebastian is very motivated and he showed it in the second half of the season, he is with us again next year without any doubt.”

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Bottas on how he can topple Hamilton in 2020

Valtteri Bottas will take another crack at trying to stop his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in 2020, and he has a plan.

The Finn brought his 2019 campaign to and end with a solid recovery drive in Abu Dhabi, starting P20 but coming home P4 under a second behind Charles Leclerc.

It was another reminder of the performance Bottas does have, but too often this season that Bottas 2.0 which showed up and dominated in the season-opening Australian GP has gone missing.

And, if Bottas wants to finally become the No.1 man at Mercedes next season, then he knows he must perform consistently at his top level like team-mate Hamilton who picked up his sixth World Championship in 2019.

“I need more consistency over the season. Lewis is always there, performing at his top level every single qualifying and race,” Bottas told Sky Sports.

“I’ve been there most of the time, but not every single race weekend and I need to find the balance in everything and find ways to be at my best more often.

“I’m sure I can find it somehow, and as a driver I’m sure there are still many things I can do better and improve a lot from this year.

“I’ll be working a lot over the winter so I’m sure I can make a step forward next year.

“I have good confidence now from this season, and even though I finished fourth, it’s another great result with the Mercedes car.”

Bottas enjoyed his ascent through the pack in Abu Dhabi, even having to complete his early moves with no DRS due to a glitch in the system.

And although he narrowly missed out on making the podium, Bottas still put it down as one of his best races of the season.

“It was a pretty tough race, I was really giving it everything I could,” he said.

“I have to say it was pretty good fun coming from the back, we had a really strong car but it wasn’t the easiest race.

“We did nearly the first 20 laps without any DRS, that made it more difficult to make progress through the field, but I tried and feel like I couldn’t have done anything more, so that’s why I feel pretty satisfied about today.

“It would have been nice to have been on the podium, but I gave it my all and that’s what matters.

“It was one of my best races of the season.”

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