Charles Leclerc backed off during the second stint during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and insists he is happy with the strategy Ferrari put him on.
A crash in qualifying limited Leclerc to eighth on the grid and on the medium compound tire while the rest of the frontrunners started on softs. After an impressive first stint, Leclerc stayed out until his tires dropped off and was a long way adrift of the top four once he pitted for soft tires, but says that he and the team decided there was little value in trying to exploit any pace advantage he might have had at the end.
“Well I think a lot of people thought we were struggling, which I don’t think we were,” Leclerc said. “I just didn’t push to try and close the gap. I asked on the radio pretty early in the run whether there was any possibility to come back to the guys in front, and the answer was no because the gap was too big.
“From that moment onwards it was just about trying to keep the tires and try to push for the fastest lap when I had the opportunity to do so. Don’t look at the pace from when we put the softs, it’s not our real pace; we were just trying to do the best lap.”
Leclerc later made use of space behind him to pit for another fresh set of soft tires and set the fastest lap by a clear margin, and he says the final result all comes down to the crash he had in qualifying on Saturday.
“The fifth place, obviously when I’m looking at FP1, FP2, FP3 and quali, even though obviously FP1, FP2, FP3 is not very representative, I am disappointed because I felt great in the car,” he said. “I think in the car there was definitely the potential to do pole position, and I threw all our chances away by touching the wall … it is my mistake, I take the responsibility, and basically (fifth) was the best we could do from there.
“It’s a bit disappointing, but on the other hand I think there are some positives to take away from the weekend. I think quali pace was definitely stronger than China and race pace was also very close to Mercedes. Now we look forward, and I’m pretty sure we will come back even stronger in Barcelona.”
In offering the team’s perspective of Leclerc’s strategy, team principal Mattia Binotto said there was no obvious alternative given the information the strategists had available during the race.
“It is something we already discussed together in the hours post-race debrief,” Binotto said. “Certainly maybe yes, could have been a different gamble, maybe stopping earlier on our tire or trying really to last very long on the medium, but I think you may always discuss different solution at the end of the race looking back. But I think that overall what we did was nothing wrong.”