Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur says he was surprised by Charles Leclerc’s bold move on Sergio Perez on the final lap of the Las Vegas GP, as he believed that the Monegasque was too far back to attack the Red Bull driver.
Leclerc had been in command of proceedings until a mid-race Safety Car derailed his strategy and enabled both future race winner Max Verstappen and Perez to overhaul the Scuderia charger.
The running order among the top-three appeared to be set in stone as the race entered its final laps.
Vasseur had hoped that a final effort by Leclerc would have him snapping at the heels of Perez on the final lap.
But the gap between the two drivers resigned the Frenchman to accept that third would be as good as it would get on the day for the #16 Ferrari.
But that was without counting on a fearless Leclerc giving it his all as the leaders barreled down the Strip on last time. With the help of DRS, the Ferrari driver lunged down the inside of Perez to gain the upper hand.
On the Ferrari pitwall, Vasseur was taken aback by the move, but probably not as much Perez.
“It was on the limit,” Vasseur said. “But the lap before, at one stage, I said, ‘OK, we will try to do it.’ But I had the gap on my dash and I said, ‘Wow, no, it’s too far away, it’s too far away.’
“But the lap after that, I was a bit surprised but probably less than Checo. But no, it was a mega-good move. And I think he was so motivated. Let’s say that he had to do it.”
After the race, Leclerc was convinced that without the lap 26 Safety Car, which offered Verstappen an opportunity to switch to a second set of Hards, he would have likely inflicted to Red Bull its second defeat of the season.
The Monegasque had better managed his opening stint on the Medium rubber, but fresher Hards had swayed the race in favour of the Red Bull camp.
“I think that Verstappen had more deg [on the mediums] and he destroyed the tyre before us,” explained Vasseur.
“But he was leading before this, that we had almost the same pace all the stint but probably that we were better on the tyre management on the first stint with the Medium.
“But I’m not sure that on the Hard it was not exactly the same case, because on the Hard [when] he pitted he had the tyres with five or six laps on us.
“And at the end, I had the feeling that we were coming back on [Sergio] Perez first and the pace was there and I think the tyre management was OK.”
Ferrari’s chronic tyre degradation problems that impacted the first half of its season now seem to be in the team’s rear view mirror.
But a cautious Vasseur warned against jumping to such a conclusion, as the “story changes from track to track”.
“I think we have to pay attention to the too-quick conclusion,” he said. “But if you have a look like the Mercedes last week [Brazil] was absolutely nowhere on the tyre management and they did a decent race this weekend.
“From track to track, from compound to compound, it’s a different story. Today the conditions were quite cold compared to the rest of the season.
“We had a good management, but I think it was already the case, not the last race, a couple of races ago. But it’s always on the edge on the tyre management.”