Wolff praises 'sportsmanlike' Leclerc as Mercedes clinch P2 in constructors'
Mercedes and Ferrari both went into the Abu Dhabi race weekend with a chance to finish second in the championship. In the end the Silver Arrows clinched the runners up spot, but it was a hard fought P2 with the team pipping their scarlet rivals to the tune of just 1.1 seconds at the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari finished ahead on track courtesy of Charles Leclerc, but with George Russell in third and Lewis Hamilton eighth, Mercedes did enough to improve on their third place finish in the constructors’ last season.
It was a tense ending though, with Leclerc letting the third man on the road Sergio Perez through, knowing he was carrying a time penalty. The Monegasque had hoped that by picking up DRS and sling-shotting past the Ferrari, Perez would have enough speed to build a five-second gap to Russell, which would have relegated the Mercedes to P4 and seen Ferrari grab second in the championship.
But one thing Leclerc did not do was drive deliberately slowly to hold Russell up, and in the afterglow of the 22nd race of the season, Toto Wolff paid special mention to the Monegasque.
"I think at the end, it was a great end, fight for P2," he said. "I think George’s driving was exceptional. I also think Charles at the end was sportsmanlike behaviour, not trying to slow down [Russell]. Two great teams, two great brands that fought to the end."
But while Mercedes can take heart from beating Ferrari, they still endured a winless season, and finished far off the pace of the Red Bulls. Having redesigned the car around the existing tub midway through the season – with some success in terms of pace gained – next year does offer a chance for them to make a bigger stride forward, provided they can get their concept right.
"At the end we are racers and this day feels like you’ve won and that’s great," he continued. "We have to be happy about that, but also as a racer you just want more – but today we won. It was a fight for P2. In a way, super positive for the team and so many employees to be vice-champion but it also reminds you it is P2.
“Let’s be honest, [Red Bull] have a gap because they got well off the block with the new regulations and in order to catch up, that’s a monumental endeavour. But at a certain stage hopefully they’ll level off with their development speed and we can catch up.
"It’s not only adding a tenth of downforce or so, our car is a fundamental problem.
"It’s unstable, the drivers have no confidence in the car and if we can iron that out, I hope we can make a step forward as other teams have done."
Wolff can at least take heart from a season that did deliver multiple podiums, with Lewis Hamilton finishing in the ‘best of the rest’ spot behind the two Red Bull drivers in the championship. And their customer team McLaren showed what is possible in terms of in-season development, being arguably quicker than the Bulls at some points late in the year, especially over one lap.
"We have so much good things in the pipeline, so much new things and with all the learning we’ve had I’m really in a good place to see what’s coming together," Wolff added. "We’ve got to take the momentum here from third place, P2 in the championship, and take that momentum into the factories."