Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur says Charles Leclerc was right not to hold up George Russell at the end of the Abu Dhabi GP as part of a last-ditch effort to swing the runner-up spot in the championship into the Scuderia’s camp.
Leclerc was running second in the closing stages of F1’s season finale at Yas Marina, with Sergio Perez third and Russell fourth.
However, Perez was under a five-second penalty for his clash with Lando Norris earlier in the race, which virtually positioned Russell third in the running order, a result that would allow Mercedes to safeguard its second place in the Constructors’ standings.
In a bid to take points away from Russell and permit Ferrari to pip Mercedes in the championship, Leclerc gifted Perez a slipstream and second place on the road, which would drop Russell to fourth if the Mercedes driver crossed the checkered flag over five seconds adrift from Perez.
Unfortunately, the Red Bull driver came up short by just 1.1s, which pushed him back down to fourth in the final results while Russell claimed the final spot on the podium.
After the race, Perez said that he had realized what Leclerc was attempting to do but admitted to being surprised that Leclerc did not hold up Russell more than he did, and especially through Yas Marina’s third sector.
“I mean, I was surprised that I thought Charles was going to hold back George in the end, you know, a bit in the final sector because I think I finished 1.1 seconds from George and thought he was going to hold him back,” said the Mexican.
“It was quite easy to do in the final sector, but maybe he didn’t have the full information.”
However, Vasseur argued that if Leclerc had put in an extra effort to hold up Russell, he would have likely ended more than five seconds behind Perez, and therefore would have lots P2.
“Too fair, I don’t think so,” Vasseur said when asked about his driver’s tactics. “That’s because you could imagine, to block Russell, then you have also to be sure that Perez is in between you and Russell.
“If you want to block Russell, it’s a matter of hundreds of seconds. I’m not a big fan of this.
“We did our best in a fair way when we let Perez go, to give him the DRS, to try to help us, but too much would have been too much.”
Russell praised Leclerc for keeping the battle “clean”.
"It was tight with Checo at the end, I thought Charles was going to back me up but respect to him for keeping it clean," said the Briton, a view echoed by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff who also applauded Leclerc for his sportsmanship.
“Perez, for quite some time, wasn’t really on the radar,” Wolff commented.
“We knew that they probably couldn’t hang out the one-stop when he was ahead and then kick him out 10 or 11 seconds behind us.
“At that moment, we only concentrated on ourselves and said, ‘Let’s extract the quickest race for George’, bearing in mind you need to manage the surfaces. If not, you’re falling off a cliff.
“We knew that we had to be within five seconds of Perez, but Leclerc was so far ahead that we didn’t think he could manage these gaps in order to maybe keep us behind.
“At the end, he could have pulled the handbrake on in the last sector and he didn’t. I think that shows the character of a driver.”
“The fight with Ferrari is a formidable fight between these two great brands, a team that we respect a lot and Charles drove like a real sportsman at the end.”