Ferrari Formula 1 chief Mattia Binotto has explained the pre-race agreement between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc that led to team orders controversy during Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.

Vettel used the slipstream from pole-sitter Leclerc’s car to move into the lead of the race on the long run to Turn 2, passing second-placed Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari informed Leclerc via team radio that it would move to swap the cars around as agreed before the race, only for Vettel to push ahead, meaning the change could not take place until the pit stops.

Vettel ultimately retired from the race due to a hybrid issue, with the resulting Virtual Safety Car allowing Hamilton to snatch victory for Mercedes as Leclerc finished the race in third place.

Speaking on Sunday evening in Russia, Binotto explained the pre-race agreement, saying the plan had always been to get the jump on Hamilton before swapping the cars around were Vettel to take the lead.

“As a team, obviously the victory was key, so we decided that the most important thing for us was to be first and second at the first lap, because by being first and second, we would have somehow control and manage the pace and control the positions, which is what was happening,” Binotto said.

“We agreed together that the best way was not to give any slipstream to Hamilton at first, because giving a slipstream to Hamilton would give him some advantage. And therefore Charles would give the slipstream to Seb, that was what we agreed and discussed.

“But by giving the slipstream to Seb and not giving the position, it would give an advantage to Seb, which later on in the race we could give back by swapping the cars.

“That was the deal. What happened I think exactly as I explained: we got a good start, both drivers, they both had very similar starts. We were on the Soft tyres, we got a good speed. Charles stayed on the left, Sebastian jumped initially Hamilton, and very soon was in the slipstream, naturally I would say, in the slipstream of Charles.”

Vettel was asked on multiple occasions in the opening stages of the race to let Leclerc by, only to ask that they built a bigger gap to Hamilton in third.

Leclerc ultimately got the jump with a four-lap undercut in the pits, but Binotto denied this strategy was planned to give the Monegasque the lead again.

“The two drivers may have different opinions by driving the car, but that is something which we may discuss with them,” Binotto said.

“We initially asked Seb to give the position back, but fair enough to say at that stage in the race that maybe Charles was not close enough, and we would have lost some time on track. Later on, Seb was quite fast and gained some track advantage on Charles. So we knew that we could decide to do it later on.

“The undercut was not for the reason for giving back the position to Charles. The undercut was as well because Charles stopped because he had worn tyres, his left-rear was starting to be worn, so it was the right moment for him to pit.

“We knew as well that if we had stopped both our cars there, we would have been vulnerable on Safety Cars by giving the lead to Hamilton, so we tried to stay out as much as we could with Seb, simply to protect in case of Safety Cars later in the race. Again, Seb, his tyres were worn, it was the right moment to pit.

“As a matter of fact, Charles was ahead, Seb was behind, but the race was still not over and there would have been plenty of opportunity to decide with them what would have been the best option later on.”

Binotto also claimed that neither Leclerc nor Vettel had gone against the pre-race agreement, while Vettel called the explanation “valid” and said he accepted the team’s view.

Asked if he thought Vettel should have handed back the position, Leclerc said: ”I don’t know. In the car obviously there was an agreement and that’s all I can say.”

 

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