The fight for second in the constructors’ championship between Mercedes and Ferrari went down to the wire in the season finale.
In a late but ultimately unsuccessful bid to thwart Mercedes, Leclerc allowed a penalised Sergio Perez to overtake in a bid to prevent George Russell landing a podium.
Leclerc wanted Perez, handicapped by five seconds for tagging Lando Norris, to pass and build a gap so that Russell, then running in fourth, would be far enough behind to not be promoted to third place.
Mercedes motorsport boss Wolff praised “sportsman” Leclerc for not going any further by actively slowing to delay Russell. The Austrian said: “We came to this weekend a little bit on the back foot when you saw Ferrari’s performances in the last few races.
“We have two guys fighting in the front and I think George’s drive was impeccable, obviously managing the gaps at the end.
“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.”
Wolff acknowledged that Perez had not factored into Mercedes’ gameplan until late on, adding that Leclerc had proven his “character” from not resorting to underhand tactics by backing up Russell.
“Perez for quite some time wasn’t really on the radar,” continued Wolff. “We only concentrated on ourselves and said, ‘Let’s extract the quickest race for George’
“Then we knew that we have to be within five seconds of Perez. But Leclerc was so far ahead that we didn’t believe that 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.”
Photo by: James Sutton / Motorsport Images
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, leads George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14
Second-starting Leclerc revealed that he had tried to give Perez a tow and DRS to initially pull away from the chasing Mercedes W14 before then gifting track position to the Red Bull racer.
Asked by Motorsport.com to explain his thought process, the Ferrari racer revealed: “[I decided] quite a few laps before – as soon as I was aware about the five-second penalty, basically.
“Then I was asking constantly the gap between George and Checo. Then they told me that Checo had passed George, so I knew Checo was behind me and his best chance was obviously to get the DRS from me and try and pull away as much as possible from George.
“I knew that there was quite a bit of discussion between my engineer and myself and I let him know as well that this was my plan. But it didn’t work out.”
Additional reporting by Alex Kalinauckas
Source : Motorsport.com