Charles Leclerc admits he will be ‘pretty sad’ that the season will end after this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with the Monegasque racer still in with a fighting chance of ending his first season with Scuderia Ferrari with third place in the championship standings.
Leclerc had a chance to clinch that honour last time out in Brazil but a high-profile clash with team-mate Sebastian Vettel, coupled with Max Verstappen winning, means he goes to the Yas Marina Circuit eleven points adrift of the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver.
With the final race upon the drivers, Leclerc is expecting everyone to be pushing to the maximum this weekend as they bid to end the year on a high, and he is looking forward to getting the most out of his SF90 one last time.
“Abu Dhabi, the last grand prix of the season,” said Leclerc. “Most of the paddock is probably looking forward to enjoying their holidays. From my perspective, I am actually pretty sad that I won’t be feeling that adrenalin rush behind the wheel for the next few months.
“At this race, everyone is pushing to the maximum as, for most drivers, there’s nothing to lose. The race starts in daylight and ends at night, which is something pretty special that we don’t experience anywhere else.
“Another aspect that is different here is tyre degradation, which is something we have to get accustomed to and anticipate. It always makes for an interesting race and I am very much looking forward to my last outing of the season with Scuderia Ferrari.”
Team-mate Vettel feels this weekend will also mark, in some small way, the start of the 2020 season, as teams up and down the paddock will be looking to test parts aimed for next season’s challenger.
The incident with Leclerc in Brazil ended the German’s own chances of finishing third in the championship, but he could still deny his team-mate fourth, with nineteen points between them heading into the season finale.
Vettel is expecting a one-stop strategy in Abu Dhabi, so he acknowledges the importance of Saturday’s Qualifying session as he bids to end his year with only his second victory of 2019.
“As well as being the last race of 2019, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marks the start of the 2020 season in many ways, with most teams trying out ideas for next year during Friday free practice,” said Vettel. “Then, as usual on the Tuesday and Wednesday after the race, there’s the test session when we will able to evaluate the tyres for next year and those for 2021.
“Focussing on work for next year is not a problem during the morning sessions on Friday and Saturday as conditions then are so much hotter than those experienced during qualifying and the race that they are less useful in terms of working on set-up and race configuration.
“Yas Marina features a lot of slow and medium speed corners. In contrast to Sao Paolo, Pirelli has brought its three softest compound tyres to this race. Nevertheless, it is likely to be a one-stop race, because overtaking is very difficult despite the fact there are two DRS zones. It means qualifying well is very important.
“It is an opportunity for us to finish the season on a high but we know the competition is strong, so it should be an exciting race.”
Team Principal Mattia Binotto wants the team to end the year with the best result possible, but he has praised everyone at the Scuderia for the way they turned their season around, particularly after the summer break where they took three consecutive victories and six consecutive pole positions.
“Abu Dhabi is the last race of what has been a long season for everyone,” said Binotto. “For us at Scuderia Ferrari, it was a year of new beginnings, with team members taking on new roles and Charles in his first year with us and our aim was to build the foundations for the future.
“Of course there were highs and lows: the first part of the season did not go the way we wanted, but I certainly value the way we all stood together, rolled up our sleeves and fought back.
“Particularly noteworthy was the way we reacted after the summer break, with three race wins in a row and a run of six consecutive poles positions, as well as our win in Monza, just days after the incredible celebration of the 90 years of the Scuderia, in Milan, in front of a huge crowd.”
Binotto knows second place in the championship is not what Ferrari wanted heading into the season, but he says the team will regroup during the winter and come back fighting for both titles in 2020.
“Of course finishing second will never be good enough for Ferrari and we are looking ahead to a very intense winter to keep building as a group,” said Binotto. “The aim is to come back stronger to be up to the challenges that await us.
“As the season draws to an end, I would like to say thank you to our tifosi all over the world for their passionate support all year long. This weekend, we will try to give them the best possible result with which to finish the season.”