The events behind Mattia Binotto's Charles Leclerc 'forgiven' message
Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto says Charles Leclerc was “forgiven” after his Italian Grand Prix victory, in the wake of the Q3 confusion that hampered Sebastian Vettel.
The impact of gaining a slipstream from a rival at Monza can be several tenths of a second, and with Ferrari and Mercedes closely matched teams adopted various tactics.
Vettel gave Leclerc a slipstream through the first Q3 runs and the Monegasque youngster set provisional pole position, edging the Mercedes drivers, who admitted being slightly compromised by Kimi Raikkonen’s crash.
Vettel, at that stage, sat a close fourth, but knew he would have the benefit of a slipstream for his second Q3 run, with Leclerc poised to run ahead on track.
Leclerc emerged from the pit lane fifth in the queue, with Vettel seventh, though he went around Alexander Albon at the first chicane, putting himself directly behind the sister Ferrari.
But as they were slowed by Carlos Sainz Jr., Lance Stroll and Valtteri Bottas through the exit of the corner Vettel moved ahead of Leclerc, and was seen gesturing from the cockpit as the McLaren, and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, blocked the way.
“You need to push now,” Vettel was told. “Yeah well tell him to come in front then,” was the reply from the cockpit. “Tell Charles to go.”
Vettel and Leclerc got to second and third in the queue by the time they arrived at the final sector, where Leclerc was told “you can overtake Sebastian”, which he did. Leclerc crossed the line to begin a lap with one second remaining on the clock, but by the time the pursuing Vettel reached the timing beam the red lights had come on.
“What a mess… ah pole position anyway guys,” came Leclerc’s radio response.
“Thank you. Thank you” was Vettel’s communication.
In the post-qualifying press conference Leclerc explained: “Seb overtakes me, because of the mess, because obviously we were aware it was quite tight on time, and then I stayed, basically, behind Seb, until the last straight where I’ve heard also on the radio “you can overtake Seb,” so I overtook him – but I had no time for me either to start the lap, so yeah, it was a shame – but I don’t think I could have done much more.”
For his part, Vettel explained he was unhappy with the communication and execution of the strategy, adding: “He [Leclerc] should've been ahead all the way. I just had no tow - that's the difference between pole and no pole."
It is understood that a frank discussion was held afterwards between the leading parties, where Leclerc’s role in the wrongdoing was pointed out.
Hence when Mattia Binotto radioed Leclerc on the cool-down lap to congratulate him on his victory before adding “oggi sei perdonato” – roughly translating as ‘today you are forgiven’ – it raised eyebrows.
“It means that whatever happened in the last days that we discussed, that is something that will remain between us three,” said Binotto during Ferrari’s post-race debrief, while flanked by his drivers. “At least we did a good job. That’s what I mean.
“It will not affect [the future]. Yesterday we…it was something we discussed internally, maybe a different point of view, the outcome was certainly a strange situation for everybody.
“More important was what Seb said, turn [the] page, and looking ahead. So it not affects. It doesn’t mean it might not happen again, because you never know. But the spirit is, what you make, there is something to learn, and it is more important to make sure it’s a lesson learned.”