Ferrari’s strategy conundrum
The race around the spectacular street circuit had plenty of action, especially in the midfield, but it was also a prime example of how Formula 1 can frustrate both its drivers and fans in its current state. And the conundrum it created directly led to Leclerc losing this race.
Vettel hadn’t performed badly in qualifying, but the fact remained he was beaten on Saturday for the eighth consecutive race by his team-mate who took pole position. Seb lined up third behind Hamilton. But in the race, despite where he qualified, it was Vettel who made the vital single stop first rather than Leclerc. Unusual when a team’s leading car is usually given the priority.
What happened here? Was this underhand on Ferrari’s part? Actually, that’s highly unlikely.
The team recognised Vettel was under threat from Max Verstappen in fourth, spotted a chance to undercut Hamilton for second and also feared dropping Vettel into the packed midfield, which was particularly tightly bunched because of the artificially slow pace.
Why artificially? Because drivers were forced to lap off their ultimate speed to ensure their Pirelli tyres lasted long enough to stick to the optimum one-stop strategy that is the only realistic way to run this race competitively. The drivers don’t enjoy it and no one wants to see it, but in Singapore that was how the teams had to approach it. Tyres too often undermine this era and on Sunday they did so once again.
Leclerc pitted only a lap later than his team-mate, but such was Vettel’s pace on his new hard-compound tyres he was surprised to find himself looking at his team-mate’s gearbox when resuming. To be fair, so was the team – genuinely.
Given how Leclerc lost the lead through no fault of his own, should the team have swapped the red cars around? Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said not. “He lost on strategy, but Sebastian drove very well,” he said. The main thing from the team’s point of view was it claimed an unexpected one-two – and the order of its drivers didn’t really matter.
It sure did for Vettel and Leclerc, of course – although the 21-year-old showed his maturity once again by not allowing his anger to spill over into an unsettling rant. As for Vettel, he drove with the commitment that we’ve come to expect from him, although his aggressive dive inside Daniil Kvyat while battling back to the front after his stop could have ended in embarrassment. Had Kvyat not given him room, the four-time champ could easily have extended his list of season errors. Small margins.