Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has defended a decision to use team orders in favour of four times world champion Sebastian Vettel in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, amid a wave of criticism.
The German’s teammate Charles Leclerc had made a better start and was in third place, with Vettel close behind, when the team gave instructions for the Monegasque to let Vettel through early on.
The attempt to close the gap on Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who were pulling away at the front and won one-two, failed and Vettel finished third with Leclerc dropping to fifth.
“Certainly it’s difficult as a team to give the order because we understand the drivers, they need to battle, to stay ahead as much as they can,” Binotto, who took over in January, told reporters.
“We tried everything we could not to lose time on the Mercedes ahead and that was among the only chance we got at the time,” added the Swiss-born boss. “So, we tried. It didn’t work, let’s say.
“But I think it was right anyway to give that chance to Seb and I think as a team we did whatever we could.”
The move compromised Leclerc’s race, another blow for a youngster who was cruelly denied his maiden win by an engine problem two weeks ago in Bahrain after taking pole position and leading with the fastest lap.
It meant also that the 21-year-old, who was clearly faster than Vettel in Bahrain where he passed the German despite being told to stay behind, pitted later than his team mate for both his stops and was caught by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“It was a bit frustrating,” said the Monegasque, who protested at the time that he was pulling away.
“But on the other hand I am well aware that in the car you don’t see much of the full picture of the race. So I just accepted it, did it and focused on my race.”
When asked whether he was satisfied with the explanation he had been given by the team, he replied in less than convincing fashion: “Yeah…I mean, yeah,” he said.
Vettel, sitting alongside Binotto and Leclerc, also defended the decision and said the team always comes first.
“Charles is aware, I am aware that we are driving for the team,” he said. “With this kind of stuff it’s never pleasant but it’s a bit also what goes around comes around.”
Wave of criticism
Sky Sports commentator and former world champion Nico Rosberg led the chorus of criticism.
“They treated Leclerc too harshly,” Rosberg said.
“Now they see it makes no difference and it’s unfair on Charles. He will have a chance at the end of the race, maybe we will see action at the end.
“For Sebastian they got it right but for poor Leclerc no, let’s hope but no I think they got it wrong.
“He had the pace, he was on pace. Sebastian went by and wasn’t any quicker this is not a nice way for him to end the race today.”
And he wasn’t alone, with a number of fans labelling the treatment of Leclerc ‘disgusting’ and ‘disgraceful’.
#SkyF1 Leclerc doesn't deserve this treatment because Vettel didn't pull away from him when switched, I can see this favouritism costing them at the end of the season!
— Derek Haycock (@derekhaycock) April 14, 2019
#ChineseGP Literally have never despised Ferrari more than this race with their treatment of Leclerc, absolutely disgusting. Tell him to let Vettel to pass him even though he was and continues lapping faster. Then they have him pit 4/5laps late and suffers, old tires/ lost time
— Jake Norton (@Midnightwalk87) April 14, 2019
Lmao Leclerc received the full Kimi treatment today, almost an identical strategy to 2018. Holding up the Mercedes for Vettel
But in 2018 Kimi “didn’t deserve the seat anymore.”
Now Kimi is in a team where he’s free to race, and everyone talks about how good he’s been. #Kimi7
— Fake Hovercraft Kimi (@motorsportquags) April 14, 2019
Ferrari’s treatment of leclerc today was horrendous #ChineseGP
— Matthew (@minstrel69) April 14, 2019
I think everyone would appreciate him a lot more if he wasn’t given preferential treatment. First 3 races of the season, Ferrari should let him race Leclerc to show he is quicker and deserves it.
— #TeamLH44 (@Nadal_LH_Fan) April 14, 2019
I thought Leclerc would actually get better treatment than Raikkonen, but obviously not 🤷♂️
— Alex Rins Stan Account ¯_(ツ)_/¯ (@Tigerkart) April 14, 2019
I'm a die hard Ferrari fan, but your strategy is disgraceful. Why keep giving Seb preferential treatment when a) Kimi was a better driver last year b) It's so early in the season c) LeClerc seems to be the better driver? Madness.
— James Smith (@jamesmksmith) April 14, 2019
What did you achieve @ScuderiaFerrari with your whatever strategy?Your foolhardy strategy has lead to a foster kid treatment to @Charles_Leclerc.This is a terrible, terrible strategy.
Even you lost fastest lap award. Redbull did what you should've done in Australia. #ChineseGP https://t.co/10Tdl19h8z
— Sambit Rout (@rout_sambit) April 14, 2019