Ferrari knew it would have at least one unhappy driver after qualifying for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix after it split its strategies based on the threat of rain.
Charles Leclerc was the only driver to start Q3 on the intermediate tire while the rest of the field queued up at the end of the pit lane on slicks. The rush was due to heavy rain approaching the circuit and the potential for the track to become too wet to set a time on the soft compound, but Leclerc’s strategy backfired when the other nine cars all set competitive times and the intermediates overheated, leaving him without a lap time and starting 10th for the Sprint.
Ferrari had put Carlos Sainz on slicks and he duly qualified fifth, with Kevin Magnussen taking a shock pole position as the first car out on track because he was able to take advantage of the best conditions before the rain got too heavy.
“It was a difficult qualifying session as it was very intense for all the teams,” Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekies said. “It’s the sort of qualifying where you need to make a lot of calls. Some of the ones made today worked, others worked less. Altogether it’s a bit frustrating because we got both cars into Q3 and then we were confronted with a tough choice.
“On one hand you’ve got a track that is dry and there’s a golden rule that says you should go for that track if it is dry. On the other hand we were expecting heavy rain imminently, therefore at the end of the day we split our cars. You always know at that very moment when your cars are going out that depending on the exact timing of the rain you’re going to have one happy man and one unhappy man.
“That’s exactly what happened. The rain came probably a minute too late for Charles, but it was probably the right timing for Carlos who was second on track. Altogether it is the way it is, P5 and P10. It’s the start of a long weekend with both the 100km tomorrow and 300km on Sunday, so we will be fighting back to get back to fight for better places. We seem to be in a slightly better place compared to what we were seeing last weekend in Mexico, so let’s see.”
Leclerc himself fumed over team radio at the time, saying “Beautiful, f***ing beautiful” when he learned everyone on slicks had managed a lap, but admits he had not pushed back on the strategic call ahead of Q3.
“(We went for inters) because we were expecting some rain that never came,” Leclerc said. “So now I’ll speak with the team and try to understand what we can do better in these conditions. I’m extremely disappointed; the pace was there…
“I accepted the decision to go on inters and then I just waited for the rain, but it never came.
“There was an opportunity, but we still have a quick car. We now need to get on with it and do everything well for the rest of the weekend.”