Why Leclerc ‘thanked’ Sainz for a tow he didn’t get after Ferrari radio mix-up

2023 Australian Grand Prix

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Ferrari missed out on an opportunity to secure a top-three starting position for the Australian Grand Prix after a series of miscommunications, Carlos Sainz Jnr believes.

Sainz took fifth on the grid at Albert Park, two places ahead of team mate Charles Leclerc. Ahead, Max Verstappen took another pole position for Red Bull after Sergio Perez skidded out of Q1. The Mercedes drivers of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will line up behind Verstappen in second and third.

Due to the cool temperatures in Melbourne across the weekend, many teams opted to run ‘build’ laps at slightly reduced speeds to generate tyre temperature before pushing to set competitive times on their third lap. In the closing minutes of Q3, Ferrari sent both their drivers out on new soft tyres, with Sainz ahead of team mate Leclerc.

While Sainz was planning to run a build lap, Leclerc behind him prepared to push from the end of his out lap out of fear that rain could be set to fall over the circuit. Leclerc was told by race engineer Xavier Marcos Padros that his team mate would “give him a tow on the main straight”. However, when Sainz began his build lap, Leclerc was just over three seconds behind his team mate on the Albert Park circuit.

Ferrari planned for Leclerc to give Sainz a tow
Sainz appeared to be concerned about getting in the way of his team mate before the long back straight and decided to pull over on the exit of turn four to allow Leclerc through. This prevented him from impeding Leclerc but also denied him a possible slipstream along the straight. After letting Leclerc by, Sainz was then informed multiple times that both Fernando Alonso and George Russell behind him on track were on ‘push’ laps, when both were actually on ‘build’ laps.

Sainz backed off on the run to turn 11 to allow Alonso by, only to find the Aston Martin driver slowed to prepare for his flying lap in the final corners. This forced Sainz to back off further to build a gap to Alonso so he could begin his final push lap in clear air.

The Ferrari’s tyre temperatures would have fallen further and Sainz grappled with his car through the first corner, losing four tenths to pole winner Verstappen by the braking zone of turn four and two tenths to Russell’s Mercedes. By the end of the lap. Sainz was less than two tenths behind Hamilton’s third-placed Mercedes.

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Leclerc could only manage seventh at the chequered flag and sarcastically thanked his team mate over the radio in parc ferme for failing to give him a slipstream along the back straight.

“And big thanks to Carlos for the tow in turns three and four,” Leclerc said. “It was nice – got a little bit of extra speed. Always nice to be close there.”

Sainz was left ruing the series of miscommunications, believing a chance to split or even beat the Mercedes had gone begging.

“I am convinced that today we could have done a top three with a clean qualifying lap,” he said.

“We had a bit of a bad preparation lap on that lap with the tyre temperatures because we let by two or three cars that we thought were on a push lap, or they told me they were on a push lap. I had to slow down a lot to let them buy and then they slowed me down because they were not.

“I lost two or three tenths in sector one for tyre prep and then I had to risk a lot, sectors two and three and pick up the pace. I did actually a very good lap after that. I think that would have put me in the top three, which would have been good progress and good lap time found from Jeddah.”

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Leclerc admitted he “didn’t do a great job in terms of driving” during the early phase of qualifying, but that the preparation for his final effort in Q3 had not been ideal.

Sainz is convinced he could have qualified in the top three
“This time, unfortunately, the second run in Q3, we thought the rain was coming so I went without doing a preparation lap and had to push straight away, which wasn’t great for the tyres,” he explained.

“I also found myself behind Carlos for the whole first sector, which is something that I hope we will look into as a team because this cost us quite a bit. But it’s like this.”

Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur admitted his team had been capable of securing better starting positions for their cars than what they ultimately achieved.

“It’s a bit of a frustration,” Vasseur said. “For sure, it was not an easy session.

“We were all hesitating between prep, not-prep, but at the end it’s more frustration because I think we didn’t put everything together and we are not far away to a good result today.

“Perhaps you can see in a positive way that we are perhaps a bit closer in terms of pure performance than usual. But let’s see.”

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Despite the disappointment, Leclerc believes Ferrari are in better shape for the race than they have been for the opening two rounds, where they fared better on Saturdays than on Sundays.

“I think we have quite a good race car on my side,” Leclerc said. “I maybe compromised a little bit the quali pace for the race pace so let’s see how it goes.”

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2023 Australian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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13 comments on “Why Leclerc ‘thanked’ Sainz for a tow he didn’t get after Ferrari radio mix-up”

  1. Sainz doesnt strike me as the kind of driver to give a tow when he is ahead.

    1. Stop inventing.

  2. Ferrari fumbled strategy.
    Nothing new here. Let’s hope they get it right in the race

    1. Oh got it, April the first ; )

      1. Ba-dum tss


  3. By the way, it still surprised me they didn’t do better regardless. It seemed obvious, cars that are kind to their tires have trouble getting them to heat up in cooler than expected temperatures. And cars that burn through the tires finally have a benefit from this in these conditions

  4. You just hope you won’t be thanking someone else for the tow(ing you off) tomorrow. As for Ferrari, they should do things the simple way, whenever they try to complicate something with their strategy it backfires.

  5. The ship might have sailed now that they’re deeply involved in Ferrari’s Hypercar program, but Ferrari’s F1 team could have benefited from hiring some of AF Corse people. Those guys manage championship winning efforts in far more complex events.

    I mean, if the Scuderia can’t even get an orchestrated qualifying run right… it’s all just a bit awkward.

    1. MichaelN,
      I’m tired of repeating myself with regard to Ferrari pitwall operations. I absolutely agree, the ship is beyond saving. I welcomed the move of removing Rueda though I have already said that it’s not enough since Mekies is still in charge.

      It was reported that Vigna started asking everyone to report to him something Mekies – who was already stripped of most of his duties to solely focus on on-track operations – didn’t like and did actually resign since he received offers from both F1 and the FIA. Unfortunately, It was Vasseur who blocked his move at the moment. Fred is still selling the newcomer story.

      You don’t have to be a genius to realize that removing Xavi from his role is a priority, he is not suited to the job of a racing engineer.

      1. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that removing Xavi from his role is a priority, he is not suited to the job of a racing engineer.

        One shouldn’t read too much into a clip, but the exasperation of Leclerc in Saudi Arabia was pretty striking when he noted “XAVI!awkward pause… You need to tell me that before!” To which he somewhat casually responds: “Copy.” and an increasingly agitated Leclerc says: “No but come on!”

        I’ve probably said this before, but if Leclerc isn’t going to stand up for himself then – at this level – nobody else is either. Can you imagine Schumacher, Hamilton or Verstappen putting up with this for years? Absolutely not. And Vettel’s increasingly strained radio discussions with Adami were pretty awkward, too. This is not a new problem for Ferrari.

        I like Leclerc as a driver, and he seems a fine guy as well. But this is his 5th (!) year at Ferrari, and I’m not seeing a path that arcs towards championships here. It’s perhaps not fair on anyone to be compared to Schumacher, but it was definitely there then, and to a lesser extent with Vettel too. These guys were visibly pushing the team. Maybe it won’t work out, and that’s fine. There can only ever be one winner in sports. But right now I don’t get that sense from Ferrari, and unless Vasseur announces some big changes with the start of the European season – I’m not sure where that change is going to come from either.

  6. Bobby Taylor
    1st April 2023, 15:12

    What I would give to see Leclerc in Perez’ seat. That would be a season of racing. Instead we’re stuck with Ferrari prioritizing CS the majority of the time even though he lacks the outright speed to get the most from the car. I thought FV would change that but so far not so much. It’s early I guess there is still hope for them to figure it out but CL must be seething at how this has gone so far.

  7. Gosh, that was dreadful reading about Ferrari operations, how can someone mistake a push lap for a build up lap___?

  8. Much the same again.

    Perhaps they should just focus on getting out and doing a good qualy lap instead of trying to complicate things.

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