Lewis Hamilton has described Sebastian Vettel as the driver he most enjoys racing against – and urged his great rival to “stick around” in Formula 1.
Hamilton and Vettel, far and away the grid’s two most successful drivers, were at the centre of another major controversy in Sunday’s Canadian GP when the Ferrari was handed a time penalty for forcing the Mercedes off the track as they battled for the lead.
The sanction dropped a livid Vettel behind Hamilton in the final classification and triggered some extraordinary post-race scenes from the Ferrari driver. But while Vettel expressed his anger with the decision, there was no animosity among the drivers: with Hamilton shepherding the German on to the top step of the podium with him, before Vettel stepped in to say the crowd should not boo the world champion.
Speaking in several rounds of interviews in the hours after the race, Hamilton stood by his initial verdict that Vettel had forced him to take evasive action to avoid a collision – but also had warm words for his long-time rival.
“We’ve had a lot of years racing together and there’s probably no one that I enjoy racing with on the track more than him,” said Hamilton, whose F1 career began in 2007 like Vettel’s.
“I always relish opportunities to battle like we’ve had today and the previous years and they’re really memories that I will always cherish and I hope there are many more, so stick around.”
Hamilton’s comments came in direct response to Vettel’s passionate and lengthy explanation in the post-race press conference about why he does not like certain aspects of modern Formula 1.
Vettel had begun the Canadian GP weekend by dismissing speculation that he was considering retiring at the end of the season.
Having had the chance to re-watch the season’s most contentious incident so far by the time of Mercedes’ usual post-race media sessions, Hamilton said his view was unchanged.
Just 10 weeks remain until the 2020 season gets underway at the pre-season test at The Bend Motorsport Park, with Supercars signing off on a revised aerodynamic package and new engine rules.
Nissan’s departure sees the category revert back to the Ford-Holden-only dynamic not seen in the main game since 2012. Following a 2019 season rife with parity concerns, a five-day test program was run at the Oakey Army Aviation Centre in Queensland with the latest Vehicle Control Aerodynamic Testing [VCAT] method.
Three cars took to the test – a Mustang from Ford homologation team DJR Team Penske and a Commodore from the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, along with Supercars’ own baseline Falcon FG X model.
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Across the test, an active damper system was used to allow for more accurate testing through a range of ride heights. The key was not only to balance the two models, but also shed approximately 12 percent from 2019 downforce levels to improve the quality of racing.
In-season aero adjustments only inflamed the parity debate, but last week’s test – after using an improved VCAT method – ensured all parties left the test “aligned and happy” with the resolution, according to Supercars’ head of motorsport [HoM] Adrian Burgess.
Supercars also locked in the new engine rules which will come into effect, with the category confirming a penalty system will be introduced ahead of a limit to three engine rebuilds a season.
Earlier this year, Supercars confirmed the drop from four to three rebuilds, which could save teams as much as $50,000. A control piston ring and rocker package will also be introduced, and while a drop of around 15 horsepower has been mooted, the units are expected to be more reliable.
However, should teams require additional rebuilds, they face grid penalties – similar to the divisive system seen in Formula 1.
Each sealed engine unit must cover a minimum 4000 kilometres before seals can be removed – but if a unit requires a rebuild before 4000 kilometres have been covered, the car will be slapped with a 10-place grid penalty for the next race.
However, Supercars will allow a number of exceptions to ensure “common sense” if penalties loom over teams.
Notably, teams can seek approval from the category under the supervision of the HoM to break the seals and undertake necessary repairs from leaks or accident damage.
Component failures can also be exceptions if the category is satisfied the new parts won’t hand teams a performance advantage.
Burgess admitted the penalty system will be in place to “protect” the new rules, but remains optimistic the sport’s concessions will help avoid the grid penalty furores seen in F1.
“There will be a degree of common sense needed for all circumstances. If there’s a problem with something we’ll let them open it up under supervision and fix it without using a seal or incurring a penalty.
“But the rules and penalty provision have to be there to protect what we’re trying to do and that’s reduce costs for teams.
“Since we started this discussion we’ve already seen a benefit, without even having introduced the rules yet.
“Last year only two engines went over 4000km all season and this year there were 12, so teams have already been adjusting, and therefore saving money, knowing these rules are coming.”
Daniel Ricciardo is talking the talk and he expects Renault to walk the walk.
The Aussie signed off from the 2019 F1 season with a limp 11th placed finish at last weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, bringing to an end a disappointing debut year with the French outfit.
Renault was fifth in the constructors’ championship, 54 points behind McLaren, while Ricciardo ended up ninth in the drivers’ standings.
After making the move from Red Bull at the end of 2018, Ricciardo and Renault barely fired a shot all season but the West Australian is already eyeing a brighter future in 2020.
After he crossed the line in Abu Dhabi, Ricciardo offered a message of support to the team watching on from the garage. “Thank you guys. I really mean it but we will get better next year, a lot better. I really think we will. So let’s get it,” he said over the team radio.
Those aren’t just empty words designed to make the team feel better at the end of a long campaign, Ricciardo insists. He really believes Renault has the ingredients to make meaningful strides forward next year and at least make good on its pre-season goal of being the leader of the midfield pack behind big dogs Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
“Putting it bluntly I’m not really a speech maker. I know I like to talk a lot but I’m not gonna say, ‘We’ll do better next year boys’ if I really don’t think we will,” Ricciardo told Motorsport.com.
“I’m not just going to massage their shoulders and tell them what they want to hear.”
Ricciardo is confident he can elevate his performance and is feeling good about improvements made to the car that will benefit him and incoming teammate Esteban Ocon.
“Even in myself I know I’ll get better, so that’s one variable that I know is going to change for the better. So even that alone will improve,” Ricciardo said.
“But there are a lot of other things. Speaking with the aero guys, the philosophy of how we’ve designed the car, and especially the front of the car this year, I think they’re pretty confident that that was maybe not the best way to go, looking at some other teams, in order to develop the car.
“We have a bit in hand and we certainly have the resources and the budget to do so. So, yeah, it’s optimism.”
Renault fell short of its ambition to be the “best of the rest” behind F1’s Big Three, but at least it held off a stiff challenge from Toro Rosso to hold onto fifth place in the constructors’ standings, protecting a slim buffer in Abu Dhabi to finish six points ahead of Red Bull’s junior outfit.
“I think that would have been definitely a punch in the guts,” Ricciardo said earlier in the week when asked about what the mood would have been had Toro Rosso jumped ahead in the year’s final race.
“I know financially it is (a blow). And you put the financial loss on to kind of motivation loss, and we didn’t need that.
“So let’s use that as a positive and say, ‘Alright boys, we dodged a bullet now. Let’s avoid all bullets next year and f*** some s*** up!’”
Who scored the top marks on this season’s final weekend?
And which drivers have the best average for the whole season?
Read on and find out below.
Qualified 1st, Finished 1st
The perfect end to a perfect season for 2019’s champion. In fact, make that a Grand Slam finish after Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole, won the race by leading every lap and secured the fastest lap. The Mercedes W10 was at its best on the Yas Marina layout and Hamilton delivered from Saturday, while teammate Valtteri Bottas was left to focus on a very different weekend knowing he would start at the rear of the field.
The fact Hamilton grabbed that fastest lap – a 47th in F1, incidentally, which takes him up to second in the outright list – on 27-lap-old tyres underlined his dominance of the season finale and, in championship terms at least, the 2019 season.
Rating out of 10: 9.5
Qualified 3rd (Started 2nd), Finished 2nd
Like last year, Max Verstappen concludes his season with one victory, one second place and one third in the campaign’s closing three rounds. A rematch of his gripping duel with Hamilton from Interlagos may not have materialised around the Yas Marina but Verstappen and Red Bull ultimately won out in the battle for second against Charles Leclerc.
After falling behind the Ferrari on lap one, the Dutchman’s later decisive overtake just as Leclerc was lapping George Russell was one of the race’s best moments. With three more wins under his belt, Verstappen goes into the winter hoping that when F1 competitive action reconvenes in three months’ time, Red Bull and Honda have a car for a first title assault.
Rating out of 10: 9
Qualified 4th (started 3rd), Finished 3rd
Not a final weekend in which Ferrari’s qualifying or race pace especially caught the eye, but Charles Leclerc was again their faster driver and third place confirmed he beat Sebastian Vettel in their first year as Ferrari teammates. Leclerc was a tenth quicker in qualifying, despite missing out on a final Q3 lap, and then two places and 20 seconds ahead in the race on the same two-stop strategy.
“His performance level was an accurate reflection of our car’s potential in this race and it was therefore satisfying to see him on the podium,” said his team boss Mattia Binotto. “He drove a strong race to round off a great season.” Hard to disagree.
Rating out 10: 8
Qualified 2nd (started 20th), Finished 4th
Very nearly a memorable back-of-the-grid to the podium for Valtteri Bottas at the end of what has statistically been his best-ever season. Armed with a fresh engine, he was strong on the time sheet throughout the final weekend even if, ultimately, Hamilton found some extra pace in Q3.
From 20th place, Bottas made swift headway despite the race’s early DRS malfunction and passed half the field inside the opening 10 laps. Had the race been a lap or two longer, it is likely third would have been his instead of Leclerc’s.
Rating out of 10: 8
Qualified 5th (Started 4th), Finished 5th
A weekend and result that arguably sums up Sebastian Vettel’s season. “I think as a team we must perform stronger, I think as an individual I must do better, I can do better. It wasn’t a great year from my side,” admitted a wistful Vettel to Sky F1 after the race.
Hopes of an attacking first stint on the soft tyres here – he was the only one of the top six not on mediums – were hindered by the lack of DRS, with Vettel’s switch to a two-stop strategy with 17 laps to go dropping him out of what was fourth into sixth, although he did pass Alex Albon to reclaim one of those positions late on.
Rating out of 10: 7
Qualified 6th (Started 5th), Finished 6th
Alex Albon’s wait for a first career podium will continue into his second season, but Abu Dhabi concluded what in truth has been an extraordinary first season at the top level with what was the most minimal of F1 preparation. The humble and likeable 23-year-old has consistently admitted he has areas to work on over the winter to get even better next year, with the fast and relentless Verstappen proving the ultimate yardstick in the sister car. Albon was no match for the Dutchman here, with his battle with Vettel instead his weekend highlight.
Rating out of 10: 6
F1 season ends with donuts
Qualified 11th (Started 10th), Finished 7th
A little-known fact: Sergio Perez scored the most points outside of the top three teams after the summer break. The 39-point haul from Spa – one more than McLaren’s Carlos Sainz – was completed with a stirring drive to seventh in Abu Dhabi in the kind of race that has become Perez’s trademark. Although he started 10th, Perez had just missed out on Q3 so had a free tyre choice for the race’s first stint. That made his long-short strategy expected, yet the Mexican expertly executed it, with his fresh rubber and clinical overtakes over the final 17 laps seeing him go from 13th to seventh. A job well done.
Rating out of 10: 8
Qualified 7th (Started 6th), Finished 8th
Disappointment against Perez on the final lap of his rookie season to lose a head-of-midfield position he had effectively led all race, but eighth rounded off a first year in which Lando Norris has conclusively justified his place on the F1 grid. He clinched the qualifying head-to-head against teammate Sainz on Saturday and finished as McLaren’s lead car on Sunday, despite being one of several Q3 runners to find themselves vulnerable to the pack by starting on the soft tyres.
Rating out of 10: 8
Lando’s touching farewell
Qualified 14th (Started 13th), Finished 9th
Overshadowed by the form of Pierre Gasly recently, but this was a strong finish to his comeback season for Daniil Kvyat. Like Perez, he inadvertently benefited from not qualifying higher up the field with his first stint on the hard tyres running even longer, to lap 40. He overtook both Renaults in the closing laps and was pleased to snare two final 2019 points. “That first stint was probably the best stint of my life, I pushed like there was no tomorrow!” said a delighted Kvyat.
Rating out of 10: 7.5
Qualified 9th (Started 8th), Finished 10th
With the final lap of his best season in F1 so far, Carlos Sainz beat two drivers who have each spent half-seasons in a Red Bull to sixth place in the Drivers’ Championship. A late switch to a two-stopper meant he had his work cut out to get back into the points, but a fantastic move on Nico Hulkenberg on 2019’s final tour proved decisive.
Rating out of 10: 7
Outside the points
Daniel Ricciardo, Renault – 6
Nico Hulkenberg, Renault – 6
Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo – 6
Kevin Magnussen, Haas – 6.5
Romain Grosjean, Haas – 6
Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo – 6
George Russell, Williams – 7
Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso – 6.5
Robert Kubica, Williams – 6
Did Not Finish
Lance Stroll, Racing Point – 6
‘I’m happy the season’s over’
2019’S OVERALL DRIVER RATINGS
Scored out of 10 for their performances over a Grand Prix weekend, with discrepancies in their machinery taken into account, the class of F1 2019 have all had high and low moments through the season.
But Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have consistently proved the season’s highest scorers in this feature and can barely be separated in their season average, with the 2019 champion narrowly ahead of his Red Bull rival after Abu Dhabi.
Carlos Sainz takes the third-best average for McLaren, with Valtteri Bottas fourth and Charles Leclerc fifth.
Average driver ratings for 2019 – Top 10
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes – 8.57
2. Max Verstappen, Red Bull – 8.55
3. Carlos Sainz, McLaren – 7.97
4. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes – 7.70
5. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari – 7.67
6. Sergio Perez, Racing Point – 7.47
7. Lando Norris, McLaren – 7.45
8. Alexander Albon, Red Bull – 7.42
9. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari – 7.30
10. Daniel Ricciardo, Renault – 7.17
This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission.