Ferrari ‘only half-did the job’ using Leclerc to keep Perez ahead of Russell – Horner

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Ferrari didn’t go far enough in their efforts to use Charles Leclerc to hold up George Russell in their bid to claim second place in the constructors’ championship, says Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

Red Bull were drawn into the fight between Ferrari and Mercedes over the runner-up position after Sergio Perez was given a five-second time penalty in the closing stages of yesterday’s race.

Leclerc made an audacious bid to help Perez stay ahead of Russell by letting the Red Bull driver overtake him at the beginning of the final lap. The Ferrari driver then attempted to delay the Mercedes driver enough that when Perez’s post-race penalty was applied he was relegated to third place between Leclerc and Russell.

Had Leclerc pulled it off, Ferrari would have scored enough points to beat Mercedes to second place in the constructors’ championship. However he did not delay Russell sufficiently, and the Mercedes driver beat Perez to third place by 1.1 seconds after the penalty was taken into account.

Horner pointed out Red Bull had used Perez to delay Lewis Hamilton successfully in the same race two years ago, and said Ferrari should have done the same.

“It was a logical thing to do in Ferrari’s position,” said Horner. “The problem is they only half-did the job.

“They let Checo through, but then didn’t – I think, as Checo’s demonstrated, in that sector of the circuit you can hold up quite a bit of time. So I think Charles needed to hold off George a little more to get that extra second.”

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As the finishing positions in the constructors’ championship determine the pit garage layout at each race, Horner said the result “just means we’ve got a different neighbour next year.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff appreciated Leclerc’s decision not to delay Russell excessively.

“We knew that we had to be within five seconds of Perez,” he said. “But Leclerc was so far ahead that we didn’t believe that he could manage these gaps in order to maybe keep us behind.

“In the end, he could have pulled the handbrake on in the last sector and he didn’t. And I think that shows the character of a driver.”

Leclerc revealed he decided on the gambit “as soon as I was aware about the five-second penalty” for Perez. “Then I was asking constantly the gap between George and Checo.

“Then they told me that Checo had passed George, so I knew Checo was behind me and his best chance was obviously to get the DRS from me and try and pull away as much as possible from George. So I knew that there was quite a bit of discussion between my engineer and myself and I let him know as well that this was my plan but it didn’t work out.”

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Keith Collantine
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38 comments on “Ferrari ‘only half-did the job’ using Leclerc to keep Perez ahead of Russell – Horner”

  1. Yeah this puzzled me as well. It was clear Checo didn’t have the gap to George and obviously within one lap you’re not going to gain 4 or more seconds on them. So I was expecting Charles to drop back and try to hold up George in the final sector. Was very surprised they didn’t do that.

    1. @sjaakfoo Way way too risky to back up George. Leclerc would have too be really precise to cross the line within 5 seconds of Checo but for Russell to be just behind that gap. It seems like everyone is missing this important fact. If Charles finished 3rd Merc would have finished 2nd and Leclerc would look like a complete idiot for having given Checo a free position for no reason.

    2. Maybe cause he is a sportsman. Ofc this is surprising to RBR and its fans.

      1. And to Hamilton (2016) fans?

  2. Firstly I have to commend Charles for taking strategy in his hands there. He knew the bigger picture while driving and understood what needs to be done. Unfortunately to be able to also execute he needed engineers to help him maintain proper gap using data (as falling too far behind Checo would have also meant losing).
    Ferrari really needs to invest into training/acquiring people who can actually come to a race strategically prepared and react to situations tactically in a meaningful way based on data. They used to be so sharp at these things in the Schumi era, too. Makes you wonder what went wrong since then.

    1. Makes you wonder what went wrong since then.

      Mostly changes in the rules to ban most of the things that Schumacher did.

      In similar vein there are quite a few rule changes that ban things that Max has done.

  3. We’ll, yes – he could perhaps have delayed him more. But Charles is a sportsman, thankfully.

    And if Checo was so successful, why did they still need the race directors help?

    1. Well, you do know that Lewis tried everything in and out the book to block Rosberg in an attempt to become wdc.
      So i guess he is not as good a sportsman compared with Charles?

      1. Hamilton didn’t try everything possible, though I commend him for trying to at least slow rosberg down and try to get others to overtake him, but in his situation a collision between him and rosberg could be helpful, cause if he got any outcome where rosberg retired and he could continue, it was very likely to win the title, while a normal race outcome gave him 0 chance.

      2. Just the question is offensive

  4. In the end, he could have pulled the handbrake on in the last sector and he didn’t. And I think that shows the character of a driver.

    In business this resonates with me, but I’m not sure that this is how sports work.
    I’m sure Wolff didn’t utter these words in 2016 ;)

      1. The Guardian titular says “Mercedes may suspend Lewis Hamilton for flouting team instructions”

        Oh my, what a lost occasion

  5. “In the end, he could have pulled the handbrake on in the last sector and he didn’t. And I think that shows the character of a driver.”

    What Toto Wolff meant by saying this? Lewis backed Nico in 2016 in order to him lose second place. He wasn’t successful, but I respect him for this – he was trying to win at all costs (legally), and that separates champions from race winners. You won’t win champoionships by being a gentleman. But such words from Toto seems like hipocrisy.

    1. Just a personal opinion, but I think the current state of the world is reflected in the fact that society now seems to applaud brutal, unprincipled and result-driven approaches, whilst condemning anything less as naive and gullible.

      We might be in a better place if we celebrated the sportmanship of Stirling Moss over the all-measures-allowed approach of some other people.

    2. @osvaldas31 Being a gentleman at the right moments can definitely help win a championship. Michael Schumacher demonstrated this when he was willing to be a No. 2 driver to Eddie Irvine in the back half of 1999 and earned Ferrari’s unquestioned loyalty (far above anything a contract could have specified, since ultimately contracts are just words).

    3. Big big differences between Lewis in 16 and Perez in 21. If you don’t see them then well…there you are

  6. Charles gives the answer himself to George in the cool down room. He still had to finish second and if there is only 0.2-0.3 between them it’s very hard to slot Checo who is 4-5 seconds down the road into that gap. In the end he preferred 2nd to 3rd and still losing construcutors placing.

  7. How could Leclerc have pulled the trick off?

    By staying within 5 seconds of Perez (not to lose second place) but ensuring that Russel, probably sitting on Leclerc’s gearbox by then, is outside 5 seconds?

    That takes perfect timing in the last few seconds of the race. To me it seems next to impossible.

    1. Exactly, and he would even lose positions in the WDC if he fell behind Perez at the end.

    2. How could Leclerc have pulled the trick off?

      Go back to this race in 2016 for a master class in “how to hold up a driver and back them up without having them overtake you” by Sir Lewis Hamilton.

      1. Sorry, submitted by accident, continued…

        By staying within 5 seconds of Perez (not to lose second place) but ensuring that Russel, probably sitting on Leclerc’s gearbox by then, is outside 5 seconds?

        It requires some finesse, but given that the average gap for a following driver is .5 of .7 of a second. It’s certainly not impossible to pull off.

      2. @sjaakfoo But Lewis wasn’t driving to a set delta. His goal was more qualitative: put Nico at risk of being overtaken by Seb and Max.

        Charles here would have had to not just maintain a 0.7 ish gap to Russell he would have to ensure that he was within 4.4 to 4.9 seconds off Perez, but no more.

        That’s incredibly hard to do when you can’t even see the car in front.

        1. Your dash can feed you this constant live data, so it would just require reading your dash.

          As Leclerc said, “it is a gamble” but the alternative is 100% losing p2, so what did he really have to lose? A P2 in one race? Who cares at that point.

          1. If he had lost P2 in the race, Ferrari would have also lost P2 in the WCC. He had to finish 6 points ahead of Russell in thw race. Which means P2 and P4 was the only combination that would have worked

      3. Go back to this race in 2016 for a master class in “how to hold up a driver and back them up without having them overtake you” by Sir Lewis Hamilton.

        It was certainly a “masterclass” in that respect but he was no more successful than Leclerc, as what he needed was for someone to pass Rosberg, which didn’t happen.

        I felt Hamilton could have made Rosberg’s life more uncomfortable that day. Certainly when you compare it to how much Perez held him up in 2021.

        1. It was certainly a “masterclass” in that respect but he was no more successful than Leclerc, as what he needed was for someone to pass Rosberg, which didn’t happen.

          As I recall, the “someone” was Sebastian Vettel, and he declined the offer by approximately 0.4 seconds.
          Quite why he declined the offer is a question you would need to put to him.

          Interesting in that if LH’s engine hadn’t eaten itself late in the Malaysian race, Rosberg would have finished the 2016 season the way he finished every other competition he raced against LH in his whole career, in all formula’s and karting. Rosberg was one lucky boy.

          I think Ferrari waited too long to implement the engineered gap, initiated a few laps earlier Leclerc could have stabilised on a 4.9/5.0 gap to Perez putting Russell at 5.1-5.2 back then floor it to make up the deficit in the last sector of the last lap leaving Russell, who was barely able to hang on, with too little pace to make up the difference.

      4. Masterclass? What masterclass? it was totally unsuccessful and an utter failure.
        And the loser was quite churlish and petulant in defeat btw.

    3. Well said. This wasn’t as easy as what Hamilton did to Rosberg, or what Perez did to Hamilton. That was simply drive as slow as possible without getting overtaken.

      This was drive as slow as possible without getting overtaken while being exactly 4.4 to 4.9s behind the guy in front such that the guy in front slots exactly between you and Russell.

      Had it worked it would have been a whole lotta luck

      1. I think Horner wanted Leclerc to drive as slow as possible such that Checo gets P2 and one of the McLarens overtakes Russel. That wad too much to achieve in one lap. I think what Leclerc tried was more likely to work.

  8. I thought Leclerc was going to try to back him up, but it would have been very hard to pull off, as he pointed out in the cooldown room. He would have only had a margin of a couple of tenths to get it right, and if he misjudged it then he himself would lose 2 places in the WDC, including to his teammate. I know drivers pretend they don’t care about those positions, but they do, especially when it comes to teammate head-to-heads. There could be a ‘sportsmanship’ element to the decision too, but personally I don’t see anything wrong with backing up a driver to help yourself or your team in some way, as long as it’s not done dangerously.

    1. Yes, it’d have been difficult for sure and I personally would’ve hated losing a 2nd place in this race (you don’t get them often this year), as well as the WDC positions.

      I thought he should’ve backed russell up but it’s certainly a precision matter.

  9. Charles explained his thinking in the cool-down room. In order to delay George he would have had to be right in front of him with no gap. He would risk George passing him, or Checo finishing in second place. It would be very difficult to manage it such that Checo finished 5+s ahealf of George without also finishing ahead of Charles.

  10. Russell could have just crashed into Leclerc on the last lap and ended both their races to secure the second position for Mercedes too so it’s not like backing Russell up wasn’t risk free anyway for Leclerc. It was also pretty clear Leclerc would have been desperate to finish ahead of Sainz in the standings.

    The only half job by Ferrari was Sainz dropping the ball this weekend and being nowhere.

    1. If by any chance a crash resulted in russell retiring and leclerc continuing with manageable damage, then the outcome is not so obvious.

      1. @esploratore1 The Mercedes is pretty robust, in a way the Ferrari appears not to be. If only one of the two drivers was to continue after a crash between them, it would most likely have been Russell – and that would have defeated the entire point of such a strategy.

        Thankfully, neither Charles nor George so much as considered that plan.

  11. The real problem for Ferrari was Sainz’s absence from the sharp end in this race. Sainz is a top notch driver who has amply shown he deserves his place at Ferrari. The only non-RB driver to win a race in 2023.
    But: he has more bad luck than average. Historically we know that when bad luck sticks to a driver it is hard to shake off. Thus we are expecting Sainz to continue to be the one who sniffs out a defective bit of track and duly oblige with a crash.

  12. Put simply, the plan needed George Russell to be slower or Sergio Perez to be faster, to give room to weave. Unfortunately, I don’t think their relative speed ever made the plan possible.

    Kudos for trying in an ethical way, however.

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