Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Yas Marina, 2019

Hamilton and Verstappen’s role in the domino effect which cost Leclerc his last Q3 lap

2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Charles Leclerc failed to start his final lap on time in Q3 after being held up by his team mate. But that delay was caused by a string of other cars slowing down with them.

It began when Carlos Sainz Jnr was overtaken by Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen halfway around the lap.

The 10 places in Q3 were taken by the cars from Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Renault. Running the softest tyre available – Pirelli’s C5 – their drivers had to take different approaches over the out-lap to prepare them for a final flying effort.

On top of that, most teams wanted to gain the advantage from being the last to start their flying laps. The trying was cooling and rubbering-up, offering faster lap times with every passing minute.

At Renault, Daniel Ricciardo resisted the temptation to be one of the last drivers on-track and run the risk of “getting caught up in any crap.”

Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen all passed Sainz
He went out before the final Q3 runs and had the track to himself. “You start the lap with a clear mind, knowing that you’re able to go at your pace, no excuses, no ‘ah, he blocked me’ or ‘my tyres are too cold’.

“I felt like I had been driving well enough a qualifying and all I needed was a clear lap to put it together. I didn’t feel the need to throw any variables in there. For a tenth for something it wasn’t worth the risk I felt.”

Others did take the risk, however. Earlier in the session Alexander Albon complained that he always had to leave the pits first, and therefore missed out on the opportunity to benefit from track evolution and potentially a slipstream from other cars. He was one of the last to run at the end of Q3, and was compromised because of it.

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He was held up by the McLaren of Sainz ahead of him backing off. “Everyone was fighting for position,” he said.

[icon2019autocoursempu]”We all have different out-lap paces. I think the McLarens were very slow, for themselves. We just had to wait for the McLaren to go really.

“So we will just waited and waited. I actually started my last run quite close to Carlos. And then of course that meant the Ferraris also lost out.”

The right pace for Sainz was the wrong pace for Albon behind him, whose tyres were cooling. “I basically arrived to turn one with cold tyres,” he said. “I didn’t improve on my second push [lap]. There’s reasons why, especially the tyres, you’ve got to get the sweet spot before turn one.”

However when their out laps began Sainz left the pits well ahead of Albon. He dropped backed because he was overtaken by a series of other cars, including Hamilton and Verstappen, who he says have a track record of such tactics.

Hamilton passed him on the outside of turn 11. Then Verstappen nipped up the inside of the McLaren two corners later. “You can let those guys through no problem,” said his race engineer. “Bottas now the car behind. Make sure we still have a good gap.”

Sainz backed off initially then, out of turn 14, suddenly accelerated hard. It seems he was trying to keep Bottas behind him, but the Mercedes powered around the outside of him at turn 15. “I’m struggling here with traffic,” he said. “You have plenty of time to the flag,” he was told.

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But once he’d backed off again to get more space, time was starting to get tight. And not just for Sainz – Albon, Vettel and Leclerc were catching him.

Sainz managed to set a time, but didn’t improve
Now he had to back off again. In the meantime he was getting closer to running out of time. Approaching the penultimate corner he was told he had 20 seconds in hand. He continued to coast. As he neared the last corner he was told the margin was just 15 seconds. Now he accelerated. Behind him Albon, Vettel and Leclerc followed – but the latter crossed the start/finish line after the lights had gone red.

“We were two, three tenths quicker the whole qualifying except the last one of Q3 where I got myself involved in a stupid battle with Hamilton and Verstappen in the out-lap,” said Sainz afterwards. “I don’t know why, the last few races they are battling on out-laps like it was the race so I couldn’t warm up my front tyres.”

The stewards did not consider the incident worth investigating, though it is the latest in a series of occasions where drivers have been unable to start their lap times in Q3 because of their rivals’ tactics on the out-laps. The most notorious example was at Monza, where almost no one managed to do a lap at the end of the session. On that occasion the greatest beneficiary was Leclerc; today he was the one who lost out.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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32 comments on “Hamilton and Verstappen’s role in the domino effect which cost Leclerc his last Q3 lap”

  1. Dear Carlos,
    If one driver passes you on the out lap, that driver is probably doing something wrong. If many drivers pass you on the out lap, and those drivers are the top drivers in F1, maybe, just maybe, you are doing something wrong. It takes a lot of balls to be putt, putting, around a F1 track and complain that everyone else is going fast.

    1. Different cars need different tyre warmup procedures but nice generalisation Mr armchair expert 😐

    2. @jimfromus Did you read the article? It’s not anyone fault, the optimal pace to prepare the tires of each car is different. If McLaren needs slower pace than Mercedes, RBR, and Ferrari then those teams needs to account for that fact for their timing strategy.

      1. I read the article. I am not buying it. The tires are supposed to be uniform. They have the same circumference for all teams. They will spin at some amount of rpm at a specific kph/mph. Don’t try to sell me that the tires somehow warm up differently for different teams AND if the teams believe that, they need to hire a new set of engineers because it makes 0 scientific sense.

        And to prove my point further. If the tires on Sainz car are already at race temp when he is going 50 mph but the Mercedes and Red Bull tires are at race temp at 150 mph, then Sainz has no shot in hell at ever competing in these races because the tires would melt trying to compete with the top teams.

        1. What about downforce Mr expert? THAT is the main reason why the tyres heat up at different temps. Each car is quite different in levels of downforce so in turn will generate different levels of heat for the same speed….

        2. Darling … any idea what impact different downforce levels, suspension, camber, tire pressure etc have one tire temps !?
          Tires are equal, the cars are not …

        3. Jim, don’t forget that downforce and suspension geometry also play into how the tires respond to each car.

        4. watch latest Rosberg vlog, maybe you will understand that different cars have different downforce levels, so they can do different cornering speeds, without downforce they slide at corners and create heat. So tires are same, but use of them is different in every team

        5. Don’t try to sell me that the tires somehow warm up differently for different teams

          Seriously? You don’t even understand that different cars and even different setups have an impact on the tyre?

          1. Not every fan knows everything, so let us all be polite and explain.

          2. They don’t have that sort of thing in Nascar ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  2. They just never learn from past-errors on this front.

    1. Not sure who “they” are?
      Ferrari?

    2. Interestingly Leclerc was the only car not impacted in Monza.
      He, and his racel engineer, probably needed this learning moment ;)

    3. I agree, Pirelli just won’t learn…

  3. Their obsession to be there out at the very last seconds is silly, when everyone knows the first run in Q3 is often the quickest one.

    It’s much more important to get perfect tyre prep, than a few more minutes of ‘track evolution’.

    1. @balue You know F1 probably the most data and evidence based sport right? “Few more minutes” of track evolution has proven to be major advantage, barring unpredictable condition changes such as strong wind, rain, or temperature drop. Also it’s not the few minutes, but the amount of the rubber laid in from other cars. That’s why they always want to be the last team that cross the line even significant risk of losing it all if accident or something silly like this happens. To win in F1 you need to go with all-in mentality.

      1. @sonicslv You know I’m talking about facts here right?

        About the ‘all-in mentality’, it’s not a championship winning recipe. That’s the lunge that ends in disaster, the too closed cooling vents leading to overheating and loss of points as a result, or like now, cutting the last run in Q3 too fine and losing possible grid spots as a result (Sainz definitely lost out because of this). Sometimes it pays more to play the percentages. Like Mercedes said after last race’s risky late pit stop in Brazil; they would never have done that if a championship was on the line, even if was done to maximize the chances of winning the race (all-in-mentality). Likely Hamilton would not have gone for the desperate move on Albon either. Etc, etc.

        1. @balue The fact is going last in qualifying carries a big advantage. You can go with good tire prep and no track evolution or go with good tire prep and track evolution, which one you should pick? Of course everyone will pick track evolution, which compromised the tire prep. But if you don’t pick that option, then the other teams will get their good tire prep and track evolution, making your decision silly.

          Also of course there are times when you consider the long game, but on smaller scale, you need to go all in. Like running in Q3 for example. You already satisfy the long game with your banker lap from first run in Q3. It would be foolish to not go all in for the second run. For championship you can go for the long game by settling on high point finish, but if you decide to overtake someone, you need to go all in.

  4. Sainz was pretty slow on his outlap

  5. Different cars need different tyre warmup procedures but nice generalisation Mr armchair expert 😐

    1. Duplicate post grrr

  6. Max & Lewis won’t let anyone compromise their out-laps if they can help it. Simple as that really. It’s been super important this year (at certain venues especially) to get the tires in the right window & if they have to pass someone in the queue to keep their tire temps up they’re not shy about doing it. It is a bit unsporting but that’s the mentality that gets poles, wins & championships.

    1. @Aldoid +1. It’s part of the f1 qualifying process. Ferrari stuffed themselves up by leaving it too late.

      Renault (for once) did it right.

  7. Go Lewis go!

  8. OH NO? Not another Ferrari MuckUp for 2019?
    Ho hum! At least will Win the most consistently MuckingUp team award! :)

  9. I quite like this added suspense in quali. Makes it a bit of a ‘mini race’ as it is also about speed/tyres/tactics ;)

  10. To the FIA and FOM – please don’t do anything to “fix” this “problem”, because: a) there is no problem, hence no fix required from management b) let teams sort their stuff out themselves in terms of how they release cars and manage their outlaps. They’ll figure it out eventually. Or not, and will pay the price. Either way, it is the natural order of things.

    I’m with @coldfly – it adds a bit of interest to qualy, it’s like a game of chicken.

  11. Hehe, Ferrari again.

    It is tough to be their fan.

  12. It’s so funny when a simple problem like not arriving in time to the start-finish line creates such a big dillema to the big brains of motorsport.

    Just leave earlier, god dammit…

    1. +1. @fer-no65 I struggle to see what the issue is. There’s plenty of time to set a lap. However if everyone wants to be last, the logical impossibility of that happening sets up these kinds of issues. Add to the mix the fact that the cars need to go at different paces and maintain what they think is the ideal distance from the car ahead, then you’re going to get all kinds of jostling for position and timing mishaps. I just don’t see the point of either complaining or still less involving the stewards. If you’re taking the risk by leaving late, you have to accept paying the penalty. To be fair the Ferrari drivers saw it like that. I don’t know what Sainz was complaining about in being over-taken, though.

  13. If they all assume that they will be in free air, with all the different necessary warm-up requirements, probably slightly different for each team, then all try to be last when the track is fastest; it would be a miracle if they all happened to have allowed the correct amount of time and be in the correct order on the track for it to happen

    Yet at most events they manage, or at least most of them manage, because they know what the other teams are likely to do. They probably have spotters watching their main competitors so they can see when wheels go on, how close to leaving the garage they are. Also they have screens telling the position of each car, so it all comes down to knowhow and experience, and maybe instinct.

    No don’t blame the drivers, the teams screwed up.

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