Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto says Ferrari issued team orders to Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc to avoid taking ‘any risks’ in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix.
Despite many labelling the Scuderia the favourites going into the season based on their form in testing, Ferrari struggled around the streets of Albert Park.
“Right from Friday, we didn’t feel comfortable at this track,” Binotto said. “Even though we did a lot of work on set-up, we didn’t find the right balance and even our qualifying performance demonstrated that we were struggling to adapt to the Albert Park track.”
After Vettel made a pitstop to switch onto the medium tyres, he failed to get enough grip out of them and was passed by Max Verstappen. When Leclerc then started gaining on Vettel using newly fitted hard tyres with ten laps to go, he asked the team whether he should stay behind.
“Yes, and back off to have some margin,” came the reply. Leclerc obeyed and the pair trailed home fourth and fifth, nearly a minute behind race winner Valtteri Bottas.
It was made clear in pre-season testing that Ferrari had the intentions of prioritising Vettel over Leclerc in an attempt to boost the former’s hopes in the title race. In Australia, though, it was a matter of not jeopardising either of their drivers’ results, despite the thirty second gap to Kevin Magnussen in the Haas behind.
Speaking of the decision, Binotto said, “When [Vettel] could no longer fend off Verstappen, we decided the most important thing was to get to the end, managing the tyres. When Charles caught up to him, it seemed wise not to take any risks.
“We leave Australia with a lot of data to analyse and we will use that to work out how to get back to our actual level of competitiveness for the race in Bahrain in two weeks time.”