Mattia Binotto says he understands why Charles Leclerc would be upset about Ferrari’s use of team orders in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix after being told to give up his position to Sebastian Vettel early in the race.

Leclerc passed Vettel at the start for third place, but was made to move aside for his teammate on Lap 11 as Ferrari looked to stop the leading Mercedes drivers from pulling any further ahead. Ferrari had previously said it would look to give the more experienced Vettel the priority over Leclerc in the early part of the season should the situation arise.

However, Vettel could not cut the gap, leaving Leclerc frustrated over team radio as he sat behind his teammate. Leclerc ultimately finished the race fifth after losing a place to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at the first round of pit stops.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the race, Ferrari F1 chief Binotto explained the call to give Vettel the chance to catch the Mercedes drivers, but said he understood why Leclerc would feel upset.

“I understand the feeling of Charles,” Binotto said.

“I think it is a shame for him, but at that stage of the race the Mercedes were slightly faster, We simply tried to give Sebastian a go to see if he could catch the pace of the Mercedes at that stage of the race.

“It was not to give the advantage to one driver over the other. We, as a team, tried whatever we could at an important moment of the race.

“I think if Charles is upset, he is right to be upset. I think it’s a shame for him. But maybe next time, it will be to his advantage.”

Leclerc remained coy when talking about the decision in the immediate aftermath of the race, saying he wanted to speak with his engineers first to understand the call before making a firm judgement.

“I need to understand the full picture, to see the full picture, to speak with the engineers and understand the decision,” Leclerc said.

“I’m pretty sure there is for sure an explanation behind this decision and I will understand it.

“Anyway, it’s the past. It has not been a great race for me, but overall the weekend has not been as strong as I wanted driving.

“In qualy it was OK, but in FP1, FP2 and FP3, and also going in the race without any mileage on high fuel runs was not ideal.

“Overall, today was not a good day, but we’ll come back stronger.”

Leclerc defended Ferrari’s decision to keep him out for a long second stint before coming in for his final pit stop, saying the plan was for him to try and back up the Mercedes drivers to help Vettel.

“If you look at my own race, I think obviously we would have pitted earlier,” Leclerc said.

“If you look at the team race, I think they did the right thing trying to slow down the Mercedes for Seb to come back, which was I believe the target.

“It didn’t work, but it was the target. At least we tried, and we’ll look forward now.”

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