Charles Leclerc believes Ferrari executed the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix “perfectly” to beat Sergio Perez to second place in both the race and the drivers’ championship.
Perez started on the front row alongside teammate Max Verstappen and Red Bull ran one-two for the first part of the race, keeping Leclerc at a safe distance for a spell. However, the first round of pit stops came with Leclerc starting to close in on Perez and a similar scenario later in the race saw Red Bull call Perez in again while Ferrari made a one-stop strategy work with Leclerc holding the Mexican off by just over a second.
“It was really, really tricky,” Leclerc said. “Especially at the end of the stint on the hard, even though we did a really, really good management to be honest. It’s tricky, because when you get to the end of the race, the front-locking started to become a problem, so it was very easy to do a mistake. But at the end, we kept everything under control and managed to keep Checo behind.
“But I think today was a really, really perfect execution from our side. I don’t think we had the pace of the Red Bulls still, and our goal from the beginning was to try and push Checo do something different, which we did perfectly. And again, with a great tire management, we made the one-stop work, which eventually got us the second place.”
Leclerc admits he had thought his race was likely to be even more challenging if Mercedes became a factor after early pressure from Lewis Hamilton, but teammate Carlos Sainz helped him by battling with the seven-time champion.
“The plan was always to do a one-stop,” Leclerc explained. “But we managed to push them into doing two stops.
“It was really difficult, especially on the medium at the start because obviously you do the first part of the race trying not to fight too much, but in the first few laps Lewis was quite close. After that, I don’t know what happened, I think he had to give the position back to Carlos. And then at that point, I could manage my tires a little bit better.
“It gave me a little bit of breathing space. And then from that moment onwards, then I think we did a great job.”
Having started the weekend level on points with Perez, Leclerc says second overall is a good reward for Ferrari after such a tough couple of seasons.
“I really hope next year we can do a step forward in order to fight for the championship,” he said. “But considering where we were last year, it’s a really big step forward. I think we improved throughout the end of the season in terms of strategy. We still need to work in terms of race pace, because coming to Sunday we seem to struggle a bit more. But we’ll push during the winter break in order to catch them back a little.”