Ferrari strategy director Iñaki Rueda revealed how the team looked to outfox Red Bull and Max Verstappen in Austria, and their plan paid off.
Charles Leclerc kept on his title rival’s tail in the opening stint, which forced the Red Bull driver to go faster to hold him at bay, degrading his tyres more quickly in the process.
This forced Verstappen into an early stop, and it gave Ferrari and Leclerc in particular the upper hand when it came to race strategy – with the team able to stretch their opening stints and open up a big advantage in the race.
And the Ferrari head of strategy said that was the aim for them all along.
“Come Sunday for the main race, we knew that one of the biggest problems would be tyre management,” Rueda said in Ferrari’s post-race debrief video.
“We knew that the soft would be too soft for the race, that left us with a race with hards and mediums, and we believed it would be in between a two and three-stop race.
“Our main aim for Sunday was to destabilise Verstappen. We were second and third [on the grid], and our aim was to put pressure on Verstappen and persuade him to stop very early for a suboptimal two-stop race.
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“Charles put [on] enough pressure to actually overtake Verstappen, and Carlos was coming to overtake him. This persuaded Verstappen to stop very early, as early as Lap 13.
“This was too early for an optimum two-stop race, so we had reached our first objective.”
Leclerc passed Verstappen three times on track as the significant extra speed he had on newer tyres paid dividends, but disaster struck for Carlos Sainz as his engine failed and subsequently burst into flames, and Leclerc was then faced with a problem of his own.
He could not fully disengage a stuck throttle pedal throughout the closing stages, making life much more difficult for him under braking and downshifting.
Rueda praised his driver for being able to get to the line unscathed, and hopes to carry that momentum into France and Hungary before the season halts for August.
“With only 12 laps to go, we suffered a small throttle problem. Charles managed to nurse the car all the way to the last lap and this enabled him to bring an amazing win.
“Two more races to go before the summer break, we’re fully motivated to get the best possible result out of this.”
Leclerc’s victory put himself back into second place in the Drivers’ Championship, 38 points behind his title rival at the halfway stage of the season.
A much-needed Ferrari victory
Ferrari, and Charles Leclerc, really needed that win - even if the path was not a smooth one.