Charles Leclerc says he would have won the Las Vegas Grand Prix without the final Safety Car period.Sergio Perez on the final lap.
Leclerc lost the lead to Max Verstappen at the start but was able to pass his rival to regain the position during the first stint. Having made his first pit stop later than Verstappen, Leclerc was on course to finish the race with a single stop.
But when the Safety Car was deployed shortly after half-distance, Ferrari chose to keep Leclerc out, while others behind him, including Verstappen, pitted. Leclerc reported his tyres were fading at the end of the race and was unable to prevent Verstappen passing him to take victory.
“I really believe that without the Safety Car, the win was ours,” said Leclerc afterwards.
“We had on a really good first stint on the medium and I think we had five laps newer hard [tyres] than Max. I had a good four or five laps in order to bring them into temperature and we had done a really good job on that. So I was really confident that the win was ours.
“Then there was unfortunately the Safety Car. Max and Checo stopped and I stayed on my five-lap used hard – which is not too much, five laps, but the problem is that then when you cool them down during the Safety Car, to restart a used tyre is incredibly difficult with those temperatures. And there we lost the race.”
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However he admitted it was a difficult decision to come into the pits not knowing if the Red Bull drivers behind him would come in.
“It’s always easy to say ‘I have only done five laps’. On the other hand I didn’t know what Max and Checo will do behind me. If they wouldn’t have stopped then being behind two Red Bulls will have been difficult to pass them. Now I would have stopped but now I know what they have done so it’s too easy to say.”
He admitted he was “disappointed to only finish second, but at the end that was the best we could do.”
“At the start it was very tricky because I think Max on the inside lost a bit of grip and brought me on the outside,” said Leclerc. “But then we had the pace, we passed him back and we were really strong, overall, so that was a really good race.
“We got a bit unlucky with the Safety Car. We didn’t pit because we didn’t know what the others will do and we went for track position and keeping that first place and that was difficult with the older tyres towards the end. But second place with a lot of fights, honestly, I enjoyed it.”
After Verstappen finally took the lead from Leclerc, the Ferrari driver went off at turn 12 which allowed Sergio Perez through into second. However, he retaliated on the final lap, diving past the Red Bull at turn 14 to finish behind Verstappen.
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Despite that, Leclerc said he felt “sorry about the second place.” However he was pleased by how lively the race was.
“I gave it all, but on the other hand, I’m sure that everybody had an amazing time looking at the race,” he said. “I really, really enjoyed it and we should have more races like that where the racing is like that because it was really enjoyable.”
Formula 1’s new Las Vegas Grand Prix got off to a bad start when the opening night of practice was badly disrupted. Leclerc said F1 redeemed itself with an action-packed race.
“I really enjoyed it and I think we needed it,” he said. “Of course the weekend didn’t start the way it had to start, but I’m so happy that it ended that way.
“It’s such an incredible sport and I think today, there was no better race for a first race in Vegas. The energy around the city is incredible and I’m just really, really happy.”
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