Ferrari Formula 1 team principal Mattia Binotto says “it is never an easy call” to use team orders after it swapped its drivers around during the Belgian Grand Prix.

Polesitter Charles Leclerc had controlled the opening stint of Sunday’s race at Spa but a decision to pit Sebastian Vettel earlier led to the German undercutting his teammate and moving into a mid-distance lead.

Ferrari instructed Vettel to allow Leclerc back into the lead on Lap 27, before the four-time world champion attempted to delay Lewis Hamilton’s pursuit of Leclerc.

Vettel successfully kept Hamilton behind for a number of laps before the reigning world champion eventually found a way past. Their squabble had enabled Leclerc to pull clear, but the Monegasque still had to fend off a late attack from Hamilton to score his maiden grand prix victory and Ferrari’s first win of 2019.

“At the start of the season when we tried it was not always very well accepted from the outside,” Binotto said.

“Since the very start of the season we have always said that the first priority is the team and the team points. So race by race we have normally discussed with the drivers what may be the situation and something I discussed with both of them in the morning.

“And not doubt that after a few races things become more straightforward, even when discussing with drivers and drivers somehow understanding it.

“It is never an easy call, I have to say, because drivers are in the car somehow to drive as fast as they can and somehow to do as much as they can for themselves.

“But at first I think there were not many choices. We had to anticipate Seb’s pit to protect himself from the Mercedes otherwise Hamilton would have stopped and would have undercut.

“Second because staying out longer somehow put Charles in a better position with tyres. Seb was certainly faster at that stage and he would overtake him at some stage simply because of the different strategy.

“So they were on different strategy and early on we thought we were losing time and that would not be the best thing for the team on that occasion.”

Binotto said Ferrari never intended to split its strategy between Vettel and Leclerc and added the decision was simply taken as a reaction to the emerging threat from Mercedes behind.

“With the strategy we did not split,” he explained. “I think simply we had to react to what Mercedes was doing at that time.

“If we could have gone longer with Seb, we would have done it, so we were prepared to go as long as possible, but as soon as we saw Mercedes ready for the pit we had to react.

“And Charles got some advantage, some gap, so he could have stayed out without putting at risk his track position on Hamilton and again when it was the right time to stop, we simply stopped.

“But it was not an intended two-stop strategy and therefore it could not have an intended two different set-ups.”

Asked if the team has an explanation for the big performance gaps between its drivers, Binotto replied: “Not yet. First, big, I would not use ‘big’.

"Certainly Sebastian suffered a bit more from degradation this weekend, both on Friday and then in the race. It’s certainly down to the setup as well.

“Seb normally is very good in managing tyres, especially in the very first laps somehow to use the tyres later in the stint.

“So it’s something on which we will take care, try to understand and analyse, and certainly something that if we may learn it would improve ourselves in the future. But so far, no answer.”

 

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