Charles Leclerc has revealed it was a “last minute” call by him to start the Singapore Grand Prix on the Soft tyre in order to boost his team-mate’s chances of victory.
While the rest of the top 10 runners opted for the Medium compound at the start, Leclerc utilised the added grip of the Soft rubber to propel past George Russell off the line.
Having been instructed by his engineer to hold the gap to race leader Carlos Sainz, Ferrari was controlling things at the front until the Safety Car was deployed to allow debris to be cleared from the track, caused by Logan Sargeant hitting the Turn 8 barrier.
Despite attempting to back up the pack to enable Ferrari to double-stack its cars without losing any positions, Leclerc dropped behind both Russell and Lando Norris.
Asked if he thought he had the underlying pace to challenge for the win, Leclerc said: “Honestly, this wasn’t the plan. Since this morning, things have been very, very clear and that’s why I went on the Soft.
“I changed my mind very last minute just to make sure that I was in front of George in the first stint because then it was really clear it was beneficial for Carlos because obviously he was making the gap.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t been very lucky with the Safety Cars. That meant I had to wait inside the pits for traffic and there I basically lost the race.
“But all in all, the win was the priority today and we did a really good race management with the team.”
Leclerc was promoted back up to third when Mercedes utilised a late Virtual Safety Car period to put both of its drivers on to the brand-new Medium tyres it had saved.
However, Leclerc was reeled in rapidly by the Mercedes pair, eventually electing to settle for fifth, which became fourth when Russell crashed out on the final lap at Turn 10.
“Then on the Hards, I was trying my best and then as soon as George and Lewis passed me, it was all about bringing the car to the end,” he explained.
“The car was overheating everywhere so the pace wasn’t representative there. It was all about bringing the car to the end.
“Before that, the pace was good and it was good race management from the team.”
The decision to fit a fresh set of tyres almost delivered the victory for Mercedes, with Russell and Hamilton both pressuring the leading duo in the closing laps of the race.
Leclerc insists that he did contemplate coming in at that moment, but believes that the choice to remain on his ageing Hard tyres didn’t impact his overall result.
Pressed on whether he considered adopting the same strategy as the Mercedes drivers, Leclerc responded: “Yes, I did.
“But honestly, even with hindsight, I don’t think it will have changed much because the two Mercedes pitted. And at the end on the radio, they told me to do the opposite of Lewis in front, Lewis went for the pits so I had to stay out.
“Honestly, whether I would have come in or stayed out, it would have been very, very similar. So, yeah. I don’t think it would have been a game changer.”
Despite having to endure a tense finale, Sainz resisted the chasing pack to secure Ferrari’s first victory since July last year.
Although Leclerc concedes disappointment with his own result, he is delighted that Ferrari emerged triumphant amid a tough campaign for the Maranello squad.
“It means a lot for sure, especially in a year like this that has been very, very difficult,” Leclerc expressed.
“We started this year, it was very difficult to see that much difference with the Red Bull’s especially coming race day.
“A really good step forward in Monza, even more so here, so it feels good I think for everybody in the team. Of course, me I’m a bit disappointed with today’s result as I wanted more but very happy for the team.