SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Ferrari defended their Singapore Grand Prix pitstop strategy on Sunday after it set up Sebastian Vettel to beat team mate Charles Leclerc, who had led from pole position, in a one-two finish.
The Monegasque had seemed in control and heading for a third straight win after back-to-back victories in Belgium and Italy, but Vettel pitted first and leapfrogged Leclerc in a tactic known as an undercut.
The victory was the German’s first in nearly 13 months and handed Ferrari their first one-two finish since the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Leclerc was vocal in expressing his displeasure over the team radio but team principal Mattia Binotto said stopping Vettel a lap earlier had been the right call in the bigger picture.
The move prevented Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas from using the undercut themselves to get ahead of Ferrari.
“Verstappen and Bottas were ready to stop, we knew that, and the best way to protect Sebastian’s position was to stop him,” Binotto told reporters.
“So it was the right timing to stop Seb and on that I think there are no discussions.”
Usually, teams follow a policy where they pit the lead car first and give them the benefit of fresh tires.
Binotto said that was not an option in this case as Ferrari feared Leclerc, a 21-year-old in only his second season in Formula One, would come out behind slower cars.
He was brought in on the lap after Vettel pitted. Binotto said they had not expected the four times world champion to gain as much time (3.9 seconds) on his fresher tires as he had.
“As a matter of fact, when we stopped Sebastian, we thought that Charles stopping the lap after, he would have remained ahead of Sebastian,” said the Italian.
Asked if Ferrari had considered swapping their drivers around given the unintended consequence of the pit strategy, Binotto said they had but ultimately decided against it.
“We are still discussing with our two drivers whether that was the right choice or not, something which internally we may still have a different opinion (on),” he said.
Leclerc said he had understood the situation a lot better than in the heat of the moment behind the wheel.
“Obviously I wished I was one step higher today but it’s part of life,” he said. “Sometimes it goes that way and I’ll bounce back stronger in (the next race) Russia.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin/Ken Ferris