BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Ferrari is satisfied it made the right call on Charles Leclerc's strategy at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after seeing him finish a distant fifth.
Leclerc gave himself a tough job to do on Saturday, crashing out of qualifying when pole position appeared to be there for the taking, and started from eighth. Unlike the others who had made it to Q3 and started ahead of him, Leclerc was on the medium tyre at the beginning of the race instead of the soft tyre.
On that compound he was the quickest man on the circuit in that stint, carving through the field and leading the race from lap 14 to 34 while others pitted before him. At one point he was perfectly poised for any Safety Car deployment, as he could have effectively had a free pit stop and the chance to switch on to the hard tyre to go to the end of the race.
The chance of that happening and the advantage he had enjoyed out in front soon faded as those around him stopped for medium tyres of their own and he struggled to match their pace. Without a Safety Car, the quickest route to the finish was a one-stop race with very little strategic variation available. Ferrari opted to keep Leclerc out until Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton had passed him, by which point his chances of finishing on the podium had all but vanished.
When asked whether Leclerc could have been brought in for fresh tyres earlier, team boss Mattia Binotto said: "Certainly, maybe yes, it could have been a different gamble, maybe stopping earlier on those tyres or trying to last very long on the medium. But you may always discuss different solutions at the end of the race looking back. But overall what we did was nothing wrong, let's say."
Binotto said the race was complicated by Leclerc starting down the order after his qualifying error.
"Yesterday I think we got a good car for quali. Potentially we could have been on pole. We didn't.
"And I think that the races are certainly a different matter. The reason of it is a different day as first. I think that being in front or staying behind, it is quite different to manage your pace, your tyres. When you have got fresh or clean air certainly it is a lot easier, so I think that our pace as well today has been as well affected by our position on the grid, at the start, but not only that -- certainly the others are very strong and we are facing a very strong competition."
Leclerc said he refused to get carried away with his pace compared to the others in the early stage of the race as he knew how the strategies were likely to play out.
"Well obviously in the car you are always optimistic, otherwise you lose hope and it's not good. Obviously you always hope for something better, but also realistically we were on a different strategy, so it was not meaning anything at that stage of the race. I knew the race would be very long and I just focused on myself to be as quick as possible on this medium run."
He also echoed the sentiments of his boss about how costly his error on Saturday was to Ferrari's chances and said he had given up hope of catching the leaders after his first stop.
"I think a lot of people thought we were struggling, which I don't think we were. because I just didn't push to try and close the gap. I asked on the radio pretty early in this run whether there was any possibility to come back to the guys in front, and the answer was no because the gap was too big. From that moment onwards it was just about trying to keep the tyres and try to push for the fastest lap when I had the opportunity to do so.
"Don't look at the pace from when we put the softs, it's not our real pace; we were just trying to do the best lap.
"I am disappointed because I felt great in the car. I completely agree with Mattia - I think in the car there was definitely the potential to do pole position and I threw all our chances away by touching the wall yesterday it is my mistake, I take the responsibility, and today basically it was the best we could do from there.
"It's a bit disappointing, but on the other hand I think there are some positives to take away from the weekend. I think quali pace was definitely stronger than China and race pace was also very close to Mercedes. Now we look forward, and I'm pretty sure we will come back even stronger in Barcelona."
Ferrari did call Leclerc in for a second stop late on, as he had a buffer to the car behind big enough to take on fresh tyres and challenge for the point on offer for fastest lap, which he successfully gained on the penultimate attempt.