SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto defended a decision to use team orders in favour of four times Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
The German’s team mate Charles Leclerc had made a better start and was in third place, with Vettel close behind, when the team gave instructions for the Monegasque to let his team mate through early on.
The attempt to close the gap on Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who were pulling away at the front and won one-two, failed and Vettel finished third with Leclerc dropping to fifth.
“Certainly it’s difficult as a team to give the order because we understand the drivers, they need to battle, to stay ahead as much as they can,” Binotto, who took over in January, told reporters.
“We tried everything we could not to lose time on the Mercedes ahead and that was among the only chance we got at the time,” added the Swiss-born boss. “So, we tried. It didn’t work, let’s say.
“But I think it was right anyway to give that chance to Seb and I think as a team we did whatever we could.”
The move compromised Leclerc’s race, another blow for a youngster who was cruelly denied his maiden win by an engine problem two weeks ago in Bahrain after taking pole position and leading with the fastest lap.
It meant also that the 21-year-old, who was clearly faster than Vettel in Bahrain where he passed the German despite being told to stay behind, pitted later than his team mate for both his stops and was caught by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“It was a bit frustrating,” said the Monegasque, who protested at the time that he was pulling away.
“But on the other hand I am well aware that in the car you don’t see much of the full picture of the race. So I just accepted it, did it and focused on my race.”
When asked whether he was satisfied with the explanation he had been given by the team, he replied in less than convincing fashion: “Yeah...I mean, yeah,” he said.
Binotto said he could understand any frustration on the youngster’s part.
“If Charles is upset, he is right to be upset. We should accept it, it’s a shame for him and next time maybe it will be to his advantage,” he said.
He also praised Leclerc for the way he handled the situation.
“I think that he is again showing he is a good team player,” he said.
Vettel, sitting alongside Binotto and Leclerc, also defended the decision and said the team always comes first.
“Charles is aware, I am aware that we are driving for the team,” he said. “With this kind of stuff it’s never pleasant but it’s a bit also what goes around comes around.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin/Toby Davis