Leclerc hails 'perfect' Abu Dhabi Grand Prix showing after holding off Perez for second

By Sports Desk November 20, 2022

Charles Leclerc lauded the "perfect race" at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after holding off Sergio Perez to secure second in Formula One's drivers' championship.

Red Bull star Max Verstappen was a distant memory for the rest of the grid on Sunday, easing to a third-straight Abu Dhabi win and 15th victory of 2022 after already securing the world title.

Team-mate Perez did not have as much reason to celebrate, though, after being unable to overtake Leclerc, who finished three points ahead of the Mexican in the drivers' standings.

Ferrari opted to go with a one-stop pit strategy with Leclerc at the Yas Marina Circuit and the Monegasque driver hailed a faultless performance in the final event of the season.

He told Sky Sports: "I was 110 per cent from the first lap to the last. We had the perfect race.

"I knew the only way for us to beat Checo [Perez] was with a different strategy and playing with time management, which we did really well. We made the one-stop work so I am really happy."

Leclerc's performance was enough to secure Ferrari second in the constructors' championship, again behind Red Bull, as the Italian team finished 39 points ahead of third-placed Mercedes.

The 25-year-old hopes his team can correct their mistakes and strategy decisions from 2022 to compete for the title after making progress this campaign.

"I really hope next year we can make a step forward and fight for the championship but considering where we were, it is a step forward," Leclerc added.

"We still need to work on race pace as we tend to struggle on Sunday but we will push during the winter break."

Perez may be left to rue Verstappen's refusal to allow his Red Bull team-mate to overtake in Sao Paolo last weekend, seemingly handing the advantage to Leclerc in the drivers' championship.

The Mexican refused to dwell on the negatives after the race in Abu Dhabi, though, instead pinpointing the positives as Red Bull look to improve on an incredible season next year.

"It is how it is. Sometimes everything can be really close. At the end of the day, I've got to be happy," Perez said.

"I gave it all, as a team we gave it all through the season, and I'm sure we will come back stronger next year.

"We had great moments, great battling. I think I struggled a bit this year in terms of managing the tyres in the race, that can be something that we will improve for next year, and generally just be a bit stronger." 

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    Lewis Hamilton admits he is staggered by how far Mercedes are still behind the Red Bulls after Max Verstappen blew away the field to take pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix.

    Verstappen hit back in style after seeing his record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season ended in Singapore a week ago by finishing a massive 0.581 seconds clear of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.

    Lando Norris was third in the second McLaren ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez.

    But Mercedes struggled again, with Hamilton qualifying seventh and George Russell eighth – the seven-time world champion over a second adrift of Verstappen’s pole lap.

    The Dutchman and Red Bull have dominated the sport over the last two seasons and Hamilton admits the gap that still exists between the two teams is a major concern.

    “We as a team really need to when we go back and do the debrief – I hope the team already realise – but a second gap is huge. And it is real,” Hamilton said.

    “To be two years in and still be a second down to the Red Bulls is not a good showing and we need to make sure we work hard over the winter to get back at least half that gap before next year.

    “We have a very peaky car. It is like trying to balance a knife on its tip.

    “It is never perfectly balanced, it is one way or the other. You try and get it as close as you can to the middle but it is very hard to do each weekend.”

    Verstappen topped every practice session but Norris and Piastri had closed the gap in P3 to hint at a fight for pole at Suzuka.

    But it never materialised thanks to Verstappen’s incredible pace on new tyres in the final session.

    McLaren impressed again – especially Piastri who had never even been to Japan before this week.

    “It’s been a very good day for us. A P2 and a P3 – a great job by Oscar today and as usual, by Max – but a good day,” Norris said.

    “I was pretty happy with my laps. It’s a tricky circuit; not easy to put everything together but it’s so quick around here and the smallest mistake can take a big amount of lap time.

    “I’m happy. It’s been a good day and good positions for tomorrow.”

    Mercedes are unlikely to be in the fight with Red Bull or McLaren but are set for a scrap with Ferrari as they tussle over second position in the Constructors’ Championship – which Red Bull are almost certain to clinch on Sunday.

    Leclerc delivered a strong lap for the Scuderia to line up on the second row – although he does face an investigation for exceeding the maximum lap time – while Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz starts sixth.

    “I hope we can have a good battle with Ferrari tomorrow,” Hamilton said.

    “They had an upgrade this weekend so they are a little bit ahead of us and it is not an easy track to overtake.

    “But I am still going to give it everything and hope I can give them a run for their money tomorrow.”

    Yuki Tsunoda, who was confirmed to be driving for AlphaTauri next season alongside Daniel Ricciardo, delighted his home fans by qualifying ninth.

  • Max Verstappen pips Oscar Piastri to pole after tense qualifying for Japanese GP Max Verstappen pips Oscar Piastri to pole after tense qualifying for Japanese GP

    Max Verstappen set a blistering pace to blow away the challenge of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris and take pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.

    Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to an end in Singapore last weekend.

    The Dutchman topped all three practice sessions at Suzuka to suggest the Milton Keynes-based team had banished the issues that they experienced in the city-state.

    And Verstappen was imperious around the high-speed corner circuit – where Lewis Hamilton warned the Red Bull would be “phenomenal” – taking pole by a massive 0.581 seconds ahead of Piastri.

    Norris had narrowed the gap to Verstappen, who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles, in final practice to raise hope of a challenge for pole.

    But Verstappen was dominant in the final qualifying session on brand new tyres, blowing away the competition from the two McLarens.

    “Incredible weekend so far, especially in qualifying when you can push it to the limit. It felt really nice,” Verstappen said on track.

    “We had a bad weekend in Singapore. I felt this was going to be a good track. From lap one it has been really nice.”

    Piastri, in his debut season in Formula One, had never even been to Japan before this week but got the edge on his McLaren team-mate to line up on the front row.

    Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship on Sunday at the home race of their engine supplier Honda.

    Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez finished fifth, over seven tenths adrift of the pace-setter.

    Hamilton and George Russell were well off the pace for Mercedes, who are battling with Ferrari to finish second in the Constructors’ Championship, and will line up seventh and eighth on the grid.

    Ferrari, who are running a new floor at Suzuka, took fourth via Charles Leclerc, while Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz finished sixth.

    Yuki Tsunoda was confirmed by AlphaTauri to be driving alongside Daniel Ricciardo in 2024 and delighted his home crowd by making the top-10 shootout, finishing ninth.

    Q1 was red-flagged with just over nine minutes remaining when Williams’ Logan Sargeant oversteered out of the final corner and slid heavily into the barriers.

    The American, who is yet to be confirmed by Williams for 2024, quickly jumped out of the car and made his way across the track and back to the pit lane.

    Williams Team Principal James Vowles told Sky Sports: “It is heartbreaking for Logan.”

  • Lando Norris narrows gap on Max Verstappen at final practice in Japan Lando Norris narrows gap on Max Verstappen at final practice in Japan

    Lando Norris raised hopes that he could challenge Max Verstappen for pole at the Japanese Grand Prix by finishing final practice within three tenths of the Red Bull driver.

    Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to an end in Singapore last weekend.

    He had set a blistering pace on Friday to suggest the team have put their struggles in the city-state behind them.

    The Dutchman’s margin in opening practice was a huge 0.626 seconds over Ferrari’s Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz before beating Charles Leclerc by 0.320sec in P2.

    That raised fears that Verstappen, who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles, could dominate the weekend in a Red Bull car which Lewis Hamilton predicted would be “phenomenal” around the high-speed corner track at Suzuka.

    But Norris finished just 0.240 seconds adrift of the 25-year-old and just 0.048 ahead of his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri as the British team continued to show strong pace.

    Mercedes pair Hamilton and George Russell enjoyed a more promising session but remained off the pace of Red Bull and McLaren.

    Hamilton in particular struggled badly in Friday’s two practice sessions, finishing 16th and 14th, with the seven-time world champion admitting Mercedes had work to do before qualifying.

    The 38-year-old finished seventh in P3, albeit 0.892sec behind pace-setter Verstappen, with Russell eighth.

    Mercedes are battling with Ferrari to finish second in the Constructors’ Championship.

    Ferrari, who are running a new floor at Suzuka, claimed the edge by finishing fifth and sixth but were over half-a-second adrift of the two McLarens.

    Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull claimed fourth, 0.737sec behind his team-mate.

    A large number of the teams are struggling with tyre degradation due to the higher-than-usual heat at Suzuka, with a track temperature of over 48 degrees Celsius recorded during P3, raising the possibility of a three-stop race on Sunday.

    Qualifying gets under way at 1500 local time (0700 BST).

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