It was a frustrating Russian Grand Prix for Scuderia Ferrari. Charles Leclerc finished third, but Sebastian Vettel had to retire because of a problem with a hybrid component of the Power Unit. The outcome of the race at the Sochi Autodrom was particularly annoying for the Italian team, because what caused Charles to fall back behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas was the Virtual Safety Car period called to deal with Seb’s SF90 parked at the side of the track. During this time, the others were able to pit for tyres, losing around half the time that it cost those, including Charles, who had pitted during normal race conditions.
Early stages. At the start, the team strategy worked perfectly: Charles had a great getaway from pole and Sebastian was in his slipstream, which pulled him past Hamilton. The towing effect was so powerful that the German even went into the lead going into the first real corner at the track. Seb then started to push on at a cracking pace and pulled away from his team-mate, who was leaving the pack behind.
Key moment. Charles was the first of the two Ferraris to pit, coming in on lap 22 and switching from Soft to Medium tyres. Four laps later, Sebastian came in, to run behind his team-mate. However, in the third sector, a problem suddenly occurred on the SF90 linked to the hybrid part of the Power Unit and he had to park the car at the side of the track. The Race Director called a Virtual Safety Car, which gave those who had not yet changed tyres the opportunity to do so, losing only half the time of a normal stop, as the Mercedes went from Medium to Soft. This left Hamilton leading from Charles and Bottas. At this point, the Monegasque driver decided to go for a win or bust move, coming in again to switch to the same Soft tyres as his rivals, even though it meant dropping being the second Mercedes.
Closing stages. Over the last 21 laps, Charles tried to attack Hamilton and Bottas, but the performance levels of the cars were so similar that, even with DRS, Leclerc was unable to try an overtaking move, thus crossing the line third, five seconds off Hamilton and under one and a half behind Bottas.
On to Japan. Charles’ third place is his ninth podium finish of the season, the team’s sixteenth. He picked up 15 points today, which puts him ahead of Max Verstappen in third place in the championship, with a total of 215. Scuderia Ferrari is still second in the Constructors’, behind Mercedes and ahead of Red Bull. The next round, the 17th of the season, takes place on 13 October in Japan.
Charles Leclerc #16
“It was a tricky race. I think that we had a good strategy to give us the best result as a team. At the start of the race, I gave Sebastian a tow so that we could race at the front and get ahead of our competitors together.
Then, after the safety car, things became a bit more complicated and we aimed to find the right timing to swap positions, which we did when Seb pitted. Unfortunately, there was an issue on Seb’s car and he had to end the race early. From that point on it just didn’t go our way anymore and it was not possible for me to overtake the two cars in front.
After we had such a strong weekend, ending the race with one car in P3 and the other retired is not the best feeling. But we are confident of our potential and will head into the next races with determination and give our all to bring home the best possible results.”
Sebastian Vettel #5
“Today, we are very disheartened. We wanted to finish first and second, but all we got was a third place. It’s not the result we were hoping for. I got a good start and the first stint was pretty quick which allowed me to open up quite a gap.
After the pit stop, I rejoined in second place but shortly afterwards the team asked me to stop the car because there was a problem with a hybrid component on my Power Unit. I hope the engine will be okay for the coming races.
It has definitely been not our day today.”
Mattia Binotto Team Principal
“We are disappointed because we did not do a perfect job today. To win, you need reliability and today we didn’t have it. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time this season that’s been the case.
Before the race, as always, we spoke with the drivers and we asked Charles to give Seb a tow, because that would be the best way for him to get ahead of Hamilton and for the two of them to be first and second come the end of the opening lap. In fact, Seb got a fantastic start, which allowed him to pass Hamilton even before the entry to the corner.
Seb was very quick today and I am very happy with the way he drove. I have said it many times before, his strong point is the race and he proved that, running at a great pace. It was a real shame we had to tell him to stop. We asked him to park the car at that point for safety reasons, which obviously takes precedence over everything else.
It’s not the result we were hoping for, but after today, we are even more prepared for the fight. Our car is strong, as is the team and we are ready to give our all in the coming races.”