Charles Leclerc goes into the penultimate race of 2019 in Brazil knowing he will be take a ten-place grid penalty after his Scuderia Ferrari team opted to chance his internal combustion engine following an issue with the one he was using in the last round in the United States.
Leclerc, twice a winner in 2019 in his first year with Ferrari, is looking forward to returning to the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, the venue where he starred in Qualifying in 2018 whilst racing for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, making it through to the top ten despite rain beginning to fall during his flying lap.
The Monegasque racer says the track is an exciting one to drive despite it being so short – it is the third shortest on the calendar after only Monaco and Mexico – and he knows anything can happen on race day despite his penalty.
“Not only are the people in Brazil extremely passionate about our sport, but it was also the home of Ayrton Senna, who is the driver I have probably most looked up to,” said Leclerc. “He was very talented, just special, and this GP will always remind us of his legacy.
“The circuit is really exciting to drive on. It’s a short lap but still features lots of different corner combinations paired with straights. I think the layout has changed quite a bit over the past decades until it reached its current shape.
“When I was younger, I actually always used to select it on my Playstation, so I’ve always been very fond of it! The weather in Sao Paulo can be changeable, which means that the conditions on track can vary from day to day and pose unexpected challenges to all teams, mixing things up.”
Team-mate Sebastian Vettel will want to get this weekend underway to put behind him his disappointing United States Grand Prix, where he retired after just seven laps due to a rear suspension breakage.
The German, who last won in Brazil back in 2017, says something crazy always seems to happen in Brazil, and he is expecting something to occur this weekend as he bids to end the season on a high.
“Racing in Brazil, in Sao Paulo, I think in a nutshell, anything can happen,” said Vettel. “I don’t know why, but there is something about this place and this circuit. Every year, something crazy happens and, if it doesn’t you can be sure it will the following year.
“This is another track that has suited us well in the past and treated us well over the last couple of years. I remember we had good pace there and Kimi was on the podium last year, while two years ago we won the race. I think overall it’s been a good hunting ground for us and hopefully it will be like that again this weekend.
“Certainly, in terms of atmosphere, it’s very special. Brazilians are one of the loudest crowds on the calendar: you can actually hear them when you are in the car and it feels as though they are in the cockpit with you.”
Team Principal Mattia Binotto says Ferrari arrive in Brazil looking to put their horror show in Austin well and truly behind them, with their race pace nowhere compared to that seen by either Mercedes AMG Motorsport or Aston Martin Red Bull Racing.
Both Vettel and Leclerc were close to the front of the field in Qualifying but their inability to switch on the medium compound tyres hurt them in the first stint, and although the pace was better on other compounds, they were too far behind the leading trio up front for them to take any notice.
“We come to the penultimate round of the season after a frustrating race in Austin, where we were unable to deliver the results we felt we could have done,” said Binotto. “On Saturday, we missed out on taking a historic seventh consecutive pole by just one hundredth of a second with Sebastian, although we can take comfort from the fact it showed the raw performance was there.
“On Sunday, Charles’ pace in the first stint was poor although his car performance level was back to normal after the first pit stop. So we will put all this behind us now and look ahead to Brazil and a fresh start.”
Binotto explained that the reason Leclerc was getting a new internal combustion engine – and the subsequent grid penalty – was the stoppage the Monegasque suffered early in final practice on Saturday morning at the Circuit of the Americas caused too much damage to the power unit for it to be used again.
“Charles will get a new Power Unit there, as his was damaged on Saturday in Austin, which meant he had to use a previously used and less powerful version for the rest of the weekend,” said Binotto. “Fitting a new PU means taking a grid-penalty in Sao Paulo, but we should be back to our normal performance level and show some fighting spirit to finish the season on a high note.
“That will be important in order to confirm we are making progress with our car and to take some of that momentum into the winter work. I know that our drivers and the whole team are fully focused on that.”