Sebastian Vettel had only a supporting role in Charles Leclerc’s first win for Ferrari. Team Principal Mattia Binotto explained their strategy in Spa.
For Italian journalists, it would have almost been the perfect headline – Sebastian Vettel missing at the official post-race press conference after Leclerc’s victory.
Vettel had already left and his seat next to Binotto empty. Immediately, you could hear whispers among groups of journalists hoping for the worst: Was Vettel so angry at his team that he left at once?
If you looked at the group photos at Ferrari’s victory celebration, Vettel looked anything but angry. He looked more like someone who genuinely was happy for his team-mate and the whole team. Yes, someone who played the role of a secondary support driver with full conviction to secure the first victory for the team.
Let’s recap: Although the first pit stop brought Vettel in front, it wasn’t enough to stay there as Leclerc was clearly faster than Vettel lap after lap. Hence, he moved aside to let Leclerc pass and to support him securing his first victory.
According to ABMS and F1 Insider information, Vettel himself offered to go for this tactical move! Yet, that Vettel would have to make a second pit stops was certainly not planned. Vettel’s tire degradation was too just too severe for a one-stop strategy.
Team Principal Binotto revealed: “We just had to react to what Mercedes was doing at the time, and we were ready to race with Seb as long as possible, but when we saw that Mercedes was getting ready for a stop, we had to react.”
The consequence of that decision was that Vettel overtook Leclerc in the box, but with worse tire options. That’s why Leclerc was able to easily pass Vettel on the start-finish line without any loss of time.
Binotto continued: “It’s never an easy decision because pilots drive as fast as they can and get as many points as they can for themselves. But today, there weren’t many options.”
However, it remained unclear, why Vettel was slower in Spa than his team-mate from Monaco. Leclerc now leads the team-internal qualifying duel with 7: 6. He won the last six qualifying sessions over Vettel.
“We still don’t know what happened at Spa..,” admitted Binotto, but he also emphasized: “First of all, I wouldn’t even speak of a ‘big’ gap. Certainly, Sebastian suffered more from tire degradation this weekend. This was due to a set-up issue, and Seb is usually very good at managing the tires.”
At least, Vettel did his job in supporting his team as much as he could like a real team-player.
*This article was first published in German at autobild.de/motorsport.