Leclerc: Soft tyre choice all about protecting Sainz's lead


Charles Leclerc says his decision to start the Singapore Grand Prix on the soft compound tyre was part of a ploy to gain the upper hand on Mercedes' George Russell at the start and protect his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz thereafter.

With most of the field opting to start on the medium rubber, Leclerc was an outlier as he sat on the grid, his SF-23 unexpectedly shod with the red-rimmed soft tyre.

But when the lights went off, the Monegasque's plan worked like a charm as he exited Turn 1 in second place behind Sainz and crucially in front of Russell.

The Scuderia charger knew at that point that his own race would be one in which he would play a support role for his teammate as long as the latter was leading the charge up ahead.

"I pushed to start on the soft just to make sure that I was making the position straight away on George," Leclerc explained after the race.

"Since this morning things have been very clear. 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.

"Obviously he was making the gap, but also for me because then that meant I could stop before Carlos and try and keep that second place."


However, a Safety Car triggered by an off by Williams' Logan Sargeant led to a round of pit stops after 20 laps, or well before the expected pit window that Ferrari had planned.

While Sainz was able to retain his lead after switching to the hard tyre, Leclerc was given a tardy green light to avoid an unsafe release in front of the incoming Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

"Unfortunately, I haven’t been very lucky with the Safety Car," he admitted.

"That meant I had to wait inside the pits for traffic and I lost basically the race. All in all, the win was the priority today and we did a really good race management with the team."

Leclerc had dropped from second to sixth by the time he rejoined the proceedings, but he moved up to third in the second part of the race in the wake of a Virtual Safety Car that compelled both Mercedes drivers to pit for a fresh set of mediums.

That handed a clear pace advantage to Russell and Hamilton who eventually overhauled the Ferrari driver before they set out after Sainz and Norris.

Leclerc inherited fourth at the checkered flag following Russel('s mishap on the final lap of the race.

"On the hard I was trying to do the best, then as soon as George and Lewis passed me, it was all about bringing the car to the end," he recounted.

"The car was overheating everywhere so the pace wasn’t really representative there, but it was all about bringing the car to the end. Before that the pace was good and it’s been good race management from the team."

At the outset of the VSC, Leclerc was tempted to follow Mercedes' drivers into the pit but he was ordered to stay out by the Ferrari pitwall.

"Even with hindsight I don’t think it would have changed much because the two Mercedes pitted," he said.

"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 came in or stayed out it would have been very, very similar. So I don’t think it would have been a game-changer."

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