Ferrari say Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc rivalry still a 'luxury'
"I still believe it's a luxury," says Ferrari boss Binotto despite latest tense dispute in Russia. "We have got two fantastic drivers."
By James Galloway in Sochi
Last Updated: 30/09/19 1:51pm
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto insists managing Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc remains a "luxury" despite the latest outbreak of track tension at the Russian GP.
The team's attempt to win a fourth consecutive race on Sunday was immediately clouded in controversy at the race's start after Vettel, who had qualified third behind Leclerc and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, used the powerful Sochi tow overtake his team-mate for the lead into Turn Two.
Although it soon emerged that the moves had been pre-planned as part of a "deal" so Ferrari created a one-two ahead of Hamilton, Vettel questioned initial radio calls to let Leclerc back ahead soon after the race's opening laps.
Leclerc eventually moved ahead through an earlier pit stop, but the race slipped away from Ferrari after an engine failure stopped Vettel four laps later and let Mercedes in to pit Hamilton for a 'free' stop under the Virtual Safety Car.
But the early moves and radio calls remained the big post-race talking point amid questions of whether Ferrari could keep a lid on its intensifying in-house rivalry.
"I still believe it's a luxury," Binotto said on Sunday evening in Sochi.
"We have got two fantastic drivers therefore that's where I'm starting from."
Ferrari explain Sochi strategy
In their first year as team-mates at Ferrari, Vettel and Leclerc have regularly run in close company on track - with pit-wall radio instructions proving common.
At Monza in what proved a farcical end to Q3 as all but one driver was timed out of a final lap, Vettel was angered that Leclerc did not stay ahead of him on the out lap as planned in order to give him the 'tow' that the four-time champion had performed for his team-mate in the first runs.
Then in Singapore, Leclerc was frustrated when an earlier pit stop for third-placed Vettel cost him the lead and race win to German.
Explaining what had happened in Sochi, Binotto said that suggestions that Vettel should have given the place back immediately were "not fully true".
"Looking at the video and looking at the start our judgement was that the start went as planned and therefore we thought it was right to ask Seb to swap the positions," explained the Ferrari team principal.
"Eventually the two drivers may have different opinions by driving the car but that's something we may discuss with them. So we asked Seb to give the position back but (it was) fair enough to say at that stage of the race maybe Charles was not close enough and we would have lost some time on track.
"Then later on Seb was quite fast and gained some track advantage on Charles. So we knew that we could have decided to do it later on."
Binotto also confirmed that Ferrari did not pit Leclerc first to simply make sure he was back ahead of Vettel.
"The undercut was not for the reason of giving back the position to Charles," he said
"The undercut was because he was on worn tyres - the left-rear was starting to be worn so it was the right moment for him to pit.
"We knew as well if that we would have stopped both our cars there we would have been vulnerable on Safety Cars by leaving the lead to Hamilton. So we tried to stay out as long as we could with Seb simply to protect in case of Safety Cars in that period of the race.
"Again, Seb's tyres were worn, he called for it, it was the right moment to pit and we pitted. As a matter of fact, Charles was ahead, Seb was behind, but the race was not over and there would have been plenty of opportunity to decide with them what would have been the best option later."
Vettel and Leclerc keep quiet...
Standing either side of Binotto in Ferrari's regular post-race media session, Vettel and Leclerc largely kept their counsel after their team boss's explanation.
Vettel said: "On my side it's best if I don't say anything. I kept it that way in the TV pen.
"Mattia gave an explanation which is valid, so I leave it there."
Leclerc, who finished behind Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in third, added: "In the car there was an agreement and that's all I can say."