Mattia Binotto says Ferrari took the call to pit Sebastian Vettel before Charles Leclerc in F1 Singapore was down to threat from Max Verstappen.
After an intoxicating F1 Singapore GP at Marina Bay Sands circuit, there were mixed vibrations from the podium sitters and also Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto, largely about the strategy they had.
Vettel arguably had the beneficial strategy eventually by undercutting his teammate and then race leader Leclerc, leading the German to take his first grand prix race win in nearly four hundred days.
Already Ferrari surprised everyone with Leclerc taking pole. The Monegasque started off well on Sunday and was holding the pack by driving slow, so as to save his tyres as much as possible.
But he did hit the cliff. However, he wasn’t in the position to pit as he would have had traffic. He eventually pitted on Lap 20 but one lap after Vettel, which meant he lost the race lead through strategy.
It then started the frustrating 40 plus laps for Leclerc, who was riding high on his back-to-back F1 wins. Things settled down a bit by the time he made it for the post-race media session where Binotto explained the call.
The Italian then revealed that they took the call on Vettel very late as they understood that he was under threat of losing out to Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen, who stayed on the tail of the leading pair always.
“Normally, we are always giving the advantage to the car ahead, so it’s normally the rule, but in that case, we did not stop Charles at first [even though] he was leading the race as he would have been in traffic,” he said.
“On the opposite, Verstappen was already pitting, we knew that, and the best way to protect Sebastian’s position was to stop him, make sure he was out on the following lap [to cover the Dutchman].
“This also was to at least have the pit stop crew free to prepare for Charles’s pit stop, so it was the right timing to stop Seb. I understand Charles was a bit disappointed because he was trying his best to win the race.
“And I think he did everything he could to win the race – did we consider the swap? Yes we did, I think we saw that it was the right decision not to do it.” The important point missed by all was the threat from Verstappen.
Even if he may not have won the grand prix but he would have had track position, which would have made difficult for Ferrari then to push for a 1-2 finish after it became evident that Mercedes lost the battle.
Leclerc was certainly not happy but he eventually understood the team’s decision. Interestingly, Binotto said that the simulation showed Leclerc would be ahead even with Vettel’s undercut but the German drove well.
“I think they [Ferrari] would have been surprised by how much the undercut was powerful and as I said, in the car, it was very frustrating, but now also out of the car I understand the whole situation,” he said.
“[Overall] I’m extremely happy for the whole team, happy for Seb, he deserved it, and we’ll move forward, obviously I wish I was one step higher today, but it’s part of life, sometimes it goes that way.”
He confirmed as well that the undercut wasn’t discussed in the strategy meeting, which is why he was even more surprised that it was done. Vettel also stated that it was a late call by the team.
Even though Ferrari took Verstappen as a threat, the Dutchman did not have the Italian outfit in mind as he didn’t think Red Bull had enough. He expected more from the grand prix but the results didn’t come.
Team boss Christian Horner thought second was possible. “It was a very interesting and strategic race as you could see early on that Leclerc in the Ferrari was managing the pace,” he said.
“Eventually when everyone started racing from about Lap 15, the tyres quickly got out of shape for some of the front runners. So we decided to pit as early as we could with Max and we found him a gap on the same lap as Vettel which brought him out just behind Hulkenberg.
“That cost him a little bit of time and without that, maybe he would also have been able to get ahead of Leclerc after his pit stop, but with Mercedes opting to go longer, that gave him track position with P3.”
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Additional input from Archie Wingate