Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has defended the team order that moved Sebastian Vettel ahead of Charles Leclerc during the Chinese Grand Prix.
Leclerc had passed Vettel at the start of the race and was running third behind the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. With the front two easing away and Vettel sitting close behind his teammate, Ferrari took the decision to switch positions, but Vettel couldn’t pull away and Leclerc questioned the call on team radio before later losing out strategically to Max Verstappen.
“It’s always difficult to judge,” Binotto said. “I think what we tried at the time, we tried everything we could not to lose time on the Mercedes ahead, and that was the only chance that we got at the time. We tried, it didn’t work, let’s say, but it seemed it was right to give that chance to Seb. I think as a team, we did whatever we could.”
Verstappen was able to undercut Leclerc after having gotten close to the two Ferraris in the opening stint, and Binotto says that then led to a change in strategy to try and get back ahead of the Red Bull, before the team ultimately decided it was too risky to attempt a one-stop.
“We stayed out as far as we could,” he said. “We tried to understand the tire wear, and [whether] he could have concluded the race on one stop, and [whether] one stop could have been his better chance to recover some positions. I think the longer we stayed out, we recognized that it was safer to come in.”
Leclerc himself says he understands the decision better following the team’s debrief, and suggested that Vettel was never likely to be able to pull away given the amount of time he had spent following closely.
“Obviously we had the meeting,” Leclerc said. “It was not an easy situation. I was obviously struggling with tires. We both were. But at the time, it just felt like Seb was quicker. But obviously being behind me for some laps, he also damaged his tires, and when he went in front, his tires were probably also damaged.”
Leclerc stopped for the second time with 15 laps to go, and there was a suggestion that he could have opted for the softest compound in an attempt to close a significant gap to Verstappen in fourth. But the 21-year-old admits such an aggressive approach was unlucky to pay off.
“I don’t really know,” he said. “I think with the medium, we already had a baseline on the first run and we felt it was quite good. The softs are quite fragile here, or actually very fragile. Already in qualifying, you can feel the degradation throughout one lap, so we did not want to take any risks.
“There was no big gain from it. That’s how I felt in the car. I don’t know what we going on on the pit wall, but I felt it was right to make me go again on the medium.”