Charles Leclerc said he made a late decision to start the Singapore Grand Prix on soft tyres to give himself the best opportunity to pass George Russell at the start and help his team mate win the race.
“I pushed to start on the soft just to make sure that I was making the position straight away on George,” he explained after the race.
Having passed Russell to take second place behind his team mate, Leclerc followed his team’s instruction to stay several seconds behind Sainz in order to maximise their chances of making their mandatory pit stops without giving up the lead.
Leclerc said his role in that was to support his team mate. Trying to win the race for himself “wasn’t the plan.”
“Since this morning things have been very clear,” he explained. “That’s also why I went on the soft.
“I changed my mind very last minute just to make sure that I was in front of George in the first stint because then it was really clear it was beneficial for Carlos. Obviously he was making the gap, but also for me because then that meant I could stop before Carlos and try and keep that second place.”
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However the Safety Car was deployed before Ferrari had reached the optimum point to change tyres. Leclerc therefore had to follow his team mate into the pits, which cost him time.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t been very lucky with the Safety Car,” he said. “That meant I had to wait inside the pits for traffic and I lost basically the race. All in all, the win was the priority today and we did a really good race management with the team.”
Leclerc ran third towards the end of the race but was caught by the two Mercedes drivers, who had made a second pit stop during a Virtual Safety Car period and easily passed him. After that he lost a lot of time and was nearly passed by Max Verstappen as he approached the finishing line.
Leclerc said he was managing the car to prevent it overheating over the final laps. “On the hard [tyre] I was trying to do the best, then as soon as George and Lewis [Hamilton] passed me, it was all about bringing the car to the end.
“The car was overheating everywhere so the pace wasn’t really representative there, but it was all about bringing the car to the end. Before that the pace was good and it’s been good race management from the team.“
Ferrari told Leclerc not to follow the Mercedes drivers into the pits during the VSC period. He doesn’t believe he would have gained a position if he had taken another set of tyres.
“Even with hindsight I don’t think it would have changed much because the two Mercedes pitted,” he said. “At the end, on the radio, they told me to do the opposite of Lewis in front. Lewis went for the pits, so I had to stay out.
“Honestly, whether I would have came in or stayed out it would have been very, very similar. So I don’t think it would have been a game-changer.”
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2023 Singapore Grand Prix
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