Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc’s Brazilian Grand Prix ended in a disaster after contact sent both cars into retirement.
As Max Verstappen cleared out in front, Leclerc chased Vettel for fourth after a Safety Car restart following Valtteri Bottas’ engine failure.
Leclerc – who started 14th after taking a grid penalty – had pitted under yellow and attempted an overtake on Vettel at Turn 1 on Lap 66.
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Vettel drew alongside the Monegasque driver on the back straight, and appeared to move slightly left. The gap closed, and there was minor contact.
Both cars immediately suffered punctures, with Leclerc running straight on in the Turn 4 run-off with sparks flying from a shattered front wing and right front wheel. Vettel’s left rear tyre also gave way, and after he tried to return to the pits, he pulled over with the tyre debris eating his car alive.
While both cars were in safe positions, debris at Turn 4 prompted another Safety Car.
The drama left Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto shattered at the prospect of losing a double-points finish.
The clash between the teammates was the latest chapter in a season of tension, with Leclerc in his maiden year with the team. The young gun was upset with a “not fair” result in Singapore after Vettel won in September, before a team orders fiasco in Russia poured fuel on the flames as a shoddy strategy call cost the team a potential one-two finish.
The 22-year-old bellowed over team radio, ‘what the hell!’ as Vettel also remonstrated to the pit wall. Speaking to Sky F1 after the race, a disappointed Leclerc explained his view of the incident.
“I overtook in Turn 1, and in Turn 3 I had to close because I was aware Seb will try again, and he did,” Leclerc said.
“He went around the outside and there was little space, but I left space. Then towards the end of the straight, he tried to squeeze me a little bit to the inside, and we were really close. As soon as he went to the inside, we touched and I had a puncture.
“I am pretty sure we are mature enough to put that behind us. Both of us feel extremely sorry for the team. Both cars didn’t finish and that is very disappointing.”
Vettel was less: “I didn’t have much space on the right, obviously I had a better run out of Turn 2 and I tried to pass,” the four-time world champion told Sky F1.
When asked if he believed it was a “50-50” racing incident, Vettel replied: “It’s a shame for the team that we didn’t finish the race, and that’s priority.”