Ferrari explain team order decision in F1 Australian GP
Binotto on why Leclerc was told to hold station, and why they also opted against a late stop for fastest lap bid, amid shock struggle
By James Galloway in Melbourne and Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 18/03/19 6:55am
Ferrari have explained why they implemented team orders at the season-opening Australian GP when they instructed Charles Leclerc to stay behind Sebastian Vettel.
At the end of an unexpectedly disappointing weekend for the Scuderia which saw the winter's pacesetters finish fourth and fifth - nearly one minute behind the race-winning Mercedes - Ferrari had the option to switch their two drivers in the closing stages as Leclerc caught Vettel.
"Should I stay behind Sebastian? Yes or no?" asked Leclerc.
The response on team radio: "Yes, and back off to have some margin."
But with nothing to gain points-wise so late in a race in which they had fallen more than 20 seconds behind the next car in front, Ferrari's pit wall took a no-risk approach.
"When Seb pitted to put the medium tyres he didn't find the grip he was expecting and was attacked by Max Verstappen," explained team boss Mattia Binotto.
"So we decided to take the car home, he was managing the tyres to the end. 10 laps to the end as a team we decided not to take any risks, hold positions and to bring the cars home scoring points."
Leclerc accepted the decision, telling Sky F1: "I asked but he had to hold position."
Vettel said: "I don't have much chance to fight anybody at that point because I was that slow. For me, it was just about getting to the end."
Vettel and Leclerc had been on different tyre strategies for the second stint.
While Vettel had pitted on lap 14 and taken on medium tyres, Leclerc pitted 14 laps later for the harder compound and quickly closed down what had been a 12-second deficit to the lead Ferrari.
Could Leclerc have gone for the fastest lap?
While 22 points were on offer for fourth and fifth irrespective of which order their drivers finished in, Binotto acknowledged they could have still pitted Leclerc for new tyres in the closing laps in an attempt to increase their chances of taking the bonus point now on offer for the race's fastest lap.
Leclerc's advantage over sixth-placed Kevin Magnussen would have been sufficient to allow him to pit and rejoin ahead of the Haas, provided Ferrari's service was problem-free.
"Whenever you pit it may be a risk and I think it was more important to bring the car home and score the points," said Binotto.
"There are sometimes races where you are not the best but it's still important to score points and in the end that was our choice."
Race winner Valtteri Bottas ultimately claimed the extra point with an effort 1.3s faster than Ferrari managed and Leclerc conceded: "I thought about but only thought about it because Bottas was pretty quick - quite a lot quicker."
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What have Ferrari said about team orders?
Speaking at the launch of Ferrari's new car in February, new team chief Binotto admitted that, while Leclerc is free to race the four-time world champion, Vettel may still be given "priority" during the early stages of the year.
Vettel was asked about that prospect before the race in Melbourne, but said it was "pointless to start pointing out certain scenarios".
Leclerc added to reporters: "To be completely honest it's 50-50 situations and when the time will come I will probably be let know in the car.
"To have any proper examples, I don't know, we'll see at the first race. All is very new to me."
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