Dubai: With Max Verstappen having already wrapped up the F1 driver’s championship title and Red Bull retaining their constructors’ crown long ago, the spotlight will shift to the fight for the second spot between Mercedes and Ferrari in the constructors’ championship. Both teams are separated by just four points ahead of the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final race of the season at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday.
The situation was different before the summer break when Mercedes were sitting pretty with a 51-point cushion over Ferrari and comfortably set to take the runners-up position. But after Ferrari went through an upgrade in Monza, they regained their competitive edge with both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finishing on the podium with amazing regularity. Sainz was on pole in Italy and then followed it up with a victory in Singapore, which ended Verstappen’s winning streak, while Leclerc has been on pole position at three of the past four races.
The way Ferrari have bounced back into contention, it looks pretty much like the momentum is with them and Leclerc feels that Ferrari can continue the positive run going into Sunday and clinch second spot. “It’s going to be tight. We have good momentum coming to this race as the last few races have been positive for us,” he said.
“However, Mercedes is historically pretty good here in Abu Dhabi, so we’ll have to put everything together in order to fight them and beat them in the constructors’ championship, but this is clearly the target.”
He said the team is working hard to beat Mercedes and grab the crucial second spot. “Everybody is super-motivated to beat Mercedes. Momentum is good, but the big work remains to be done on track and we’ll make sure that we do everything perfect this weekend. But it all depends on optimising the package better, which is up to us and we will focus on that,” he added.
The 26-year-old Monegasque driver was not particularly impressed with his performance last season, but believed the team had made a good progress this year.
“It’s been a disappointing season. After last year, we expected to come to the season and try and fight for the championship. But, after the first race, we understood how difficult it would be compared to the Red Bull. They had made a huge step forward, especially in race pace. We didn’t do the same step, so from that moment onwards, it was a bit of disappointing.
“But I think we’ve progressed quite a lot throughout the season, which is positive and makes me confident for the future. But there’s a big gap to fill to get back the Red Bulls. So we’ll work hard during the winter break, and hopefully, we’ll come back stronger next year with a car, which is capable of winning,” he said looking ahead to the 2024 season.
Up for the challenge
Mercedes driver George Russell, meanwhile, also said his team was up for the challenge in Abu Dhabi. “We’re excited for the challenge ahead. It’s going to be a close fight with Ferrari, they’re obviously coming off the back of a strong race, but definitely I’d prefer to be in the position we are than in their shoes.
“I think we just need to go out there, focus on ourselves, try and be as fast as possible, and if we do so, we’ll finish ahead.”
Asked if he thinks Mercedes has the pace to beat Ferrari this weekend, he added: “They were definitely pretty competitive here last year, but we’ve been surprised a lot this season in which teams are fast at which races and vice versa.
“We’re going in with an open mind. In qualifying, I think they will have a slight upper hand, as they’ve tended to do this season, but come Sunday I think it will be a different story and we’ll have a good race.”
While Mercedes and Ferrari are fighting for the second place, McLaren, who are just 11 points clear of Aston Martin, will bid for a top-four finish in the standings.