Charles Leclerc says he regrets what he believes was an over-reaction when he questioned Ferrari’s team strategy at the Singapore Grand Prix.
Leclerc had led but was passed by team-mate – and eventual winner – Sebastian Vettel during the pit-stop period when the team gave the German priority.
At the time, the Monegasque said on the team radio: “What the hell?”
“My reaction was well over what it should be and it shows I still have a lot to learn,” he said on Thursday.
Leclerc is in only his second season in F1 – and his first at Ferrari – but he has been emerging as the de facto team leader in the second part of the campaign.
The 21-year-old has out-qualified Vettel for eight races in a row and had won the past two grands prix before Singapore, where he was on course for a third consecutive win before Ferrari’s strategy intervened, and the German took the victory.
In F1, it is very unusual for a team’s second car to get ahead of their lead car during a pit-stop period because the lead car is usually given priority.
Immediately after the race in Singapore, Leclerc said he “needed some explanations”, adding: “I am pretty sure it was for the good of the team because you never undercut one car with the other in the same team; this never happens.”
After speaking to the team, he said later last Sunday in Singapore: “We have been surprised by how much the undercut was powerful. In the car, it was very frustrating; now I understand a lot more about the situation. I am extremely happy for the team and extremely happy for Seb, too. He deserves it.”
In Sochi on Thursday for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, he went one step further, saying he would not behave in that way over the radio again.
“In these situations, there was no need to be like this,” Leclerc said. “The team has done the right thing. We finished first and second and we wouldn’t have finished first and second with another strategy and that’s what matters the most.
“So on that I definitely have a lot to learn and a lot to improve but that won’t happen again in the future.”
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Ferrari’s strategy was aimed at leapfrogging Vettel ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. The Briton was running second, behind Leclerc and ahead of Vettel.
The team said they were surprised by how much Vettel gained on his first lap out of the pits on fresh tyres, and that they had expected Leclerc to emerge from his stop on the next lap still in the lead.
However, they also did not tell Leclerc that Vettel had pitted, which meant the Monegasque, who was controlling the pace at the front, did not push as hard as he might have done on the lap before he was brought into the pits next time around.
Leclerc said he did not think the team had done anything wrong in this scenario.
“I don’t think anyone expected the tyre gap and Seb has done an amazing out-lap,” he said. “I don’t think anyone expected him to pass in front.”
Vettel said he had not been upset by Leclerc’s reaction.
“It is pretty normal,” Vettel said. “He wanted to win. He was upset when he realised he was behind. I think if it was the other way around, I would have been equally upset.
“It is part of the emotions that run through you when you are racing and if they weren’t, it would mean you don’t care.”
The four-time champion added: “I don’t think you should interpret too much into these radio messages.
“We are driving when we are opening the radio – and if you did the same exercise with any football player or even a golfer, you’d be surprised. There is no point trying to understand the reason behind everything people say when they are in the moment.”
Can Ferrari make it four in a row?
Ferrari’s victory in Singapore came as a surprise to the team. They did not expect to be so competitive at a tight and twisty track, as they have struggled at similar tracks so far this season.
Ferrari have won the past three races but both drivers said they did not know whether they could maintain their strong form at Sochi this weekend, where Mercedes have won every race since the event’s inception in 2014.
Leclerc said: “We were very surprised by how quick we were in Singapore. Whether it will be the same story here or not. I don’t know.
“Definitely, if we hadn’t had that Singapore weekend, we would not have arrived here thinking we would be favourites.
“Mercedes have always been very quick here and have won every year so it is going to be very difficult to beat them. But seeing the performance in Singapore, we are a bit more confident.”