Charles Leclerc says Ferrari did not get the “full benefit” of a pit-stop under the Virtual Safety Car, due to the Italian Grand Prix going green while he was stopped.
Leclerc was the only driver to try to take advantage of the timing of the Virtual Safety Car as Ferrari hauled in the race leader to change on to the medium tyre compound on lap 12.
With a one-stop strategy the preferred option at the high-speed venue, Ferrari chose to lose as little time as possible in the pits by pitting Leclerc – only for the race to resume at full speed while Leclerc was sitting still in the pits.
That meant the time advantage gained by Leclerc stopping was considerably smaller than if the race had remained under VSC conditions for even a few seconds longer, and meant he was then faced with the uphill challenge of trying to get his medium tyres to finish the remaining 40 laps.
However, with Verstappen not coming in until lap 25, the Dutch driver’s considerably fresher tyres allowed him to quickly close down his 10-second deficit to just four seconds by the time Ferrari conceded and brought in Leclerc for a fresh set of soft tyres.
While armed with the fastest tyres, Leclerc was unable to do much about Verstappen’s lead – he had whittled it down to around 16 seconds by the time the Safety Car interrupted the race with five laps remaining. But the chequered flag quickly came with Leclerc helpless as he crossed the line behind Verstappen to claim second place.
“Overall, I think the pace wasn’t bad today,” a downbeat Leclerc told Sky F1 after the chequered flag.
“The thing is we’ve been pretty unlucky with the Virtual Safety Car ending in the middle of the pit lane for the first stop.
“We were happy to make it harder for ourselves on the mediums, with having a longer stint if we had the benefit of stopping under the Virtual Safety Car.
“But unfortunately, we didn’t get the full benefit of stopping under [VSC]. Then we had to make those mediums last as long as possible.
“Today, I think it was very difficult to predict the VSC ending. Of course, when you look at the whole season, there are many races where we could have done things better.
“But today, again, I don’t think it’s that clear. And unfortunately, we look like now we’ve done the bad choice, but it’s just because we didn’t get the full benefits of our choice.”
Late Safety Car doesn’t change the outcome for Charles Leclerc and Ferrari
The Safety Car interruption also did not play into Ferrari’s hands, despite the potential opportunity for a reset given both Verstappen and Leclerc had stopped for soft tyres.
The stewards’ inability to remove the broken-down McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo from the side of the track meant the race ended under the Safety Car – a situation Leclerc believed should not have happened.
“For the last laps, from the drivers’ point of view or from my point of view, it felt like the track was clear,” he said.
“So I was expecting a restart, but maybe there are things in the background I don’t know.”
Verstappen’s romp to a fifth consecutive race victory means the Dutch driver is within grasping distance of his second World Championship, and Leclerc admitted Red Bull are proving incredibly difficult to stop from winning.
“They are really good, especially in the race and especially managing the rear overheating, so on that basis they seem to have the upper hand,” he said, asked whether Ferrari can win another race before the season ends in six races’ time.
“I think so, and we will work for that,” he continued.
“We’ve shown we’ve had a great reaction from Spa to Monza. We still need to keep in mind these are not tracks that are good for our car, but still we have shown a good pace so I’m sure we can win some other races.”