Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc pointed the finger of blame at each other following their late collision on yet another miserable afternoon for Ferrari as Max Verstappen roared to victory in Brazil.
Verstappen delivered a dominant performance at Interlagos to win for a second time this year, finishing ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, with Lewis Hamilton taking the flag in third.
Hamilton, however, was handed a five-second penalty, dropping him to seventh and promoting McLaren’s Carlos Sainz to third, following a penultimate-lap coming together with Alex Albon.
The world champion’s collision with Albon encapsulated the frenetic nature of a race effectively deemed a dead-rubber after the Briton sewed up his sixth global title in Texas a fortnight ago.
Yet, despite Verstappen’s masterclass – the Dutchman proving again why some regard him as the best driver on the grid – and Hamilton’s banzai move on Albon, which cruelly denied the London-born Thai his first career podium, the penultimate round of the 2019 campaign might yet be remembered as the straw that broke the camel’s back at Ferrari.
The tension has been simmering between their two drivers – the four-time world champion Vettel and emerging talent Leclerc – since the opening round of the campaign in Melbourne eight months ago. Here, at one of the stand-out venues on the grand prix calendar, it sensationally boiled over.
Leclerc, having started 14th following a grid penalty, was battling Vettel for fourth with five laps to go. The young Monegasque dived underneath Vettel at the Senna Esses and made the pass stick. It was a perfect move.
Leclerc held off Vettel as they emerged from the third corner, but on the run down to the ensuing bend, Vettel latched on to Leclerc’s tow before drawing alongside his team-mate, and then subtly moving across him.
Vettel’s left-rear tyre made contact with Leclerc’s right-front, and in a flurry of sparks and broken carbon fibre, both Ferraris were out of the race. The contact was gentle, but the result devastating. Leclerc vented his anger by wagging his right fist at Vettel, who looked to be at fault, from inside his Ferrari cockpit. Both men were then on the radio in a series of furious outbursts.
“What the hell is he doing?” said Vettel, protesting his innocence.
“What the hell,” yelled Leclerc in the sister Ferrari, before he delivered a number of bleeped-out expletives.
Later, the 22-year-old said: “I left the space Seb took, and then towards the end of the straight he started to squeeze me.
“Everything happened very quickly, and as soon he went to the side we touched and then I had a puncture. In the future, we will put it behind us and continue to work together.”
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto claimed it is a luxury to have two superstar drivers, but for how much longer is their partnership tenable?
“The drivers need to feel sorry for the team because they were free to fight,” Binotto said. “I am disappointed. They know that silly mistakes are something we should avoid.
“When you have a crash, there are two drivers and both of them have got at least a small percentage, or a part percentage of responsibility. I don’t want to judge now.”
Both drivers were then pulled from a scheduled print media briefing on Sunday night, leaving Binotto to face the music alone. “We prefer it like this,” said a Ferrari spokesperson.
Binotto said Vettel and Leclerc will be summoned to the team’s Maranello headquarters to explain their actions. He ruled out disciplining either driver.
The stewards reviewed the accident, but took no further action, saying: “Both Vettel and Leclerc had the opportunity to avoid or mitigate the incident… neither driver is predominantly at fault.”