Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has explained why the team chose not to pit race leader Charles Leclerc at the end of the safety car period at the British Grand Prix – a decision that potentially cost the win and dropped him to fourth at the checkered flag.
Leclerc was leading team-mate Carlos Sainz’s Grand Prix and looked likely to seal victory with around a quarter of the race to go – but when the safety car was called on lap 39 to allow the stewards to clear the stranded Alpine d Esteban Ocon, a number of cars dove into the pit lane to fit fresh tires for the final stage of the race – including Sainz in P2 – but Leclerc was left out.
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When the race resumed, the Monegasque – now on used hard tires – was helpless to defend against the cars behind him on new softs, and was passed by Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton and Sainz who went on to win. Leclerc was visibly frustrated with the course of events, but Ferrari boss Binotto insisted after the race that pitting the two cars against each other was not an option.
“We thought we didn’t have enough space between the two cars to stop them both, so we had to make a choice between the first or the second car, so we decided to stop Carlos because Charles had the track position and was the race leader at the time, so you don’t know what the others would have done if we had stopped as the leader,” said the Ferrari boss.
“And then we were hoping for more tire degradation on soft – that didn’t happen.”
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He said the team’s strategists had decided there wasn’t enough time to make a double pit stop of the two cars, as Binotto explained: “The others were right behind and you don’t can’t waste even a second in the pit stop trying to organize it, so it was clear: we keep track of the position with Charles, and we stop Carlos.
“Obviously, looking back now, [Leclerc] being on software would have been better, but that’s not what we thought was the right decision.
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Binotto was pictured in stern conversation with Leclerc after the race, and the Ferrari boss shed some light on what he said to his driver.
“No, there is nothing to settle internally,” he said. “It was simply to tell him: I understand your disappointment, but you had a fantastic race today, fighting at the start, then fighting when he was hard and the others soft.
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“I think the way he was driving there, protecting the position was amazing, so being happy is hard – but I think staying calm and positive is important.”
Binotto was full of praise for Sainz finally claiming his first Formula 1 victory at the 150th time required.
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“I think that’s the strength of Carlos,” continued the Ferrari chief, “always trying to be there and seize the opportunities – like yesterday in qualifying: maybe the other two have made small mistakes, but he had a consistent lap and he took pole so that’s his strength.
“Be consistent until the end, until the checkered flag, and take the opportunity when the opportunity arises, and for him I’m really happy because it’s his first victory. It was important for him – with Ferrari, even more important – so I’m very happy and I think he deserved it.”