‘P2 is all that mattered’ – Leclerc explains late-race tactics with Perez in bid to help Ferrari overhaul Mercedes
Charles Leclerc has shared his thinking during the closing stages of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he ceded track position to Sergio Perez in an attempt to lift Ferrari above Mercedes into second position in the constructors’ standings.
Ferrari entered Sunday’s showdown at the Yas Marina Circuit four points behind Mercedes and, having at certain points of the race been in position to turn the tables on their rivals, came up agonisingly short.
That was despite Leclerc giving up second place to Perez – who had been hit with a five-second time penalty for a clash with McLaren’s Lando Norris – in the final laps as he tried to manipulate the gap back to the Mercedes of George Russell.
As it turned out, Perez was demoted from second to fourth after the chequered flag, behind both Leclerc and Russell, with Ferrari ultimately finishing three points behind Mercedes in the overall 2023 rankings.
Speaking post-race, Leclerc said: “Because Checo had a five-second penalty we had to help him in a way for him to finish in front of George. I tried to give him the DRS and a slipstream but that unfortunately wasn’t enough.
“On the one hand I’m really happy because on a weekend like this there was not one thing we could have done better. As a team it was definitely not a given that we were in the second-fastest car this weekend, but we did an incredible job doing everything right, the strategy, qualifying…
“It’s just a shame that we finished third in the constructors’. That’s all that mattered to me in this end of season, but we didn’t achieve that. Anyway, I would like to thank the team for doing such incredible work and for working so incredibly hard since the first race.
“We knew it was going to be an uphill season because we lacked performance compared to where we wanted but the team has done an incredible job pushing until the last race.”
Leclerc also took a moment to discuss the race start, where he went wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen into Turn 1 and throughout the opening lap in a bid to take the lead.
“Obviously I wanted to try and get that first place, but we also know that in the race we lacked some pace compared to them [Red Bull],” he commented. “Even if I would have passed Max there, I probably would have been overtaken again in three or four laps.
“At the end my only target was to beat the Mercedes, so I didn’t want to lose too much tyre juice and also time with Max, but it was fun.”
It was a similarly close affair in the drivers’ standings, with Leclerc ending tied on 206 points with fourth-placed Fernando Alonso but finishing behind on results countback, while Norris took sixth on 205 and Carlos Sainz wound up seventh on 200.