‘It’s not fair’: Ferrari snubs young star
An unimpressed Charles Leclerc questioned Ferrari's "unfair" strategy as he lost out to teammate Sebastian Vettel in a tense and topsy-turvy Singapore GP.
Vettel had run third behind Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton in the race's go-slow opening stages as the leaders conserved tyres - but the order flipped on its head in controversial fashion when Ferrari pitted its second car first.
Live stream the 2019 FIA Formula One Singaporean GP on KAYO SPORTS. Every practice, qualifying & race live & anytime in HD. Get your 14 day free trial >
After Vettel was brought in on lap 19, Leclerc pitted a lap later, while Mercedes extended Hamilton's stint to no avail. Vettel clearly benefited from the earlier advantage of new tyres to jump both rivals and take his first victory in 13 months.
As the realisation of a likely lost win dawned on him mid-race, Leclerc made clear his annoyance during several rounds of conversation over Ferrari team radio.
"I won't do anything stupid, I want us to finish one-two," Leclerc said. "I just don't think it's fair."
Leclerc, who was chasing his third consecutive victory, finished 2.6 sec behind Vettel in Ferrari's first one-two of the season. The pair exchanged a handshake post-race but there was little in the way of small talk in the cool-down room before the podium.
Leclerc kept his cool in interviews after the race and did not criticise the team. But he made clear he had not been told of Vettel's stop.
"I was surprised because I was not aware in the car, but I guess that if this decision has been made it was for the good of the team and it had been the only way for us to do one-two," the 21-year-old said.
"So if that's the case I completely understand it but obviously from the car, it's frustrating. So not completely happy today."
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto explained why Leclerc was not pitted first. "Verstappen was ready to stop so we had to protect his (Vettel's) position," Binotto told Sky Sports F1.
"It was the best opportunity for us to try and overtake Hamilton. Later on, we would have stopped Charles and the pit crew should have been free for him.
"So that was the right time to stop Sebastian - no discussion. Going out he drove very well on new tyres and, simply, that's racing and he has been ahead of Charles.
"We could not have stopped Charles at that stage because if you are leading the race you will not stop first. It was simply the proper window for Seb."
Speaking in a later press conference, Binotto confirmed they had given consideration to reversing the positions.
"Did we consider to swap? Yes, we did. We thought at that stage at least that it was the right choice not to do it," he said.
"Now we are still discussing with our two drivers, was that the right choice or not? It's something on which internally which we may still have a different option or discuss. But, yes, we thought about it but we didn't."
"The undercut was more powerful than expected. It has been 3.9 seconds, we were not expecting such a big number," Binotto added. "As a matter of fact, when we stopped Sebastian we thought Charles stopping the lap after he would have remained ahead of Sebastian. Sebastian drove well, the undercut has been 3.9 sec, and that's the facts."
After the race, Binotto was seen having what appeared to be an animated discussion with Leclerc's agent, Nicolas Todt.
Revealing what was said, Binotto added: "I told him that I know that obviously Charles is annoyed and frustrated, which is a positive attitude. If you would be a driver that's the right attitude to have.
"What I told him is that the scenarios are bigger and by the time he will understand the full picture I'm pretty sure he will quickly understand the reason for the choice.
"It's important for me that he's happy as well, happy for the team - it's a one-two. Obviously for him it's a missed win but it's been the opposite maybe in Belgium."
Sky F1's Martin Brundle declared that Ferrari were "back in business" after their third straight victory - and this one at a track where they expected to struggle.
"It was not expected, but very happy for the one-two today," said Binotto. "Very happy for the third victory on a row on a completely different track."
"I feel more unlucky for the first part of the season and maybe too lucky now!" he added. "We could have won some races that we didn't, we missed opportunities, and now some luck for the three wins in a row as it has been very close. And when it's very close it can go in one direction or the other."
Hamilton finished fourth behind Verstappen but still has a healthy 65-point lead in the championship.
"It feels like they (Ferrari) are hungrier at the moment," Hamilton said.
"So we've got to step it up. We've got the ability, we're still the best team but we've just got to stop dragging our feet and get on. We'll re-huddle and come back fighting in the next race."
SINGAPORE FORMULA ONE GRAND PRIX
1. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari) 1 hr 58min 33.667 sec
2. Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) at 2.641 sec
3. Max Verstappen (NED/RedBull-Honda) at 3.821
4. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes-AMG) at 4.608
5. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes-AMG) at 6.119
6. Alexander Albon (THA/Red Bull-Honda) at 11.663
7. Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Renault) at 14.769
8. Pierre Gasly (FRA/Toro Rosso-Honda) at 15.547
9. Nico Hülkenberg (GER/Renault) at 16.718
10. Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) at 17.855
11. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Haas) at 35.436
12. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/McLaren-Renault) at 35.974
13. Lance Stroll (CAN/Racing Point-Mercedes) at 36.419
14. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Renault) at 37.660
15. Daniil Kvyat (RUS/Toro Rosso-Honda) at 38.178
16. Robert Kubica (POL/Williams) at 47.024
17. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas) at 1:26.522
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) 296 pts, 2. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) 231, 3. Charles Leclerc (MON) 200, 4. Max Verstappen (NED) 200, 5. Sebastian Vettel (GER) 194, 6. Pierre Gasly (FRA) 69, 7. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) 58, 8. AlexanderAlbon (THA) 42, 9. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) 34, 10. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) 33
This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission