Scuderia Ferrari chose a wrong strategy for Leclerc in Austin. But this is not the only problem the team faced this weekend.
Ferrari had been at the front row at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas. After a good FP session, Charles Leclerc took the pole position on Friday. He marked a time of 1’34’723 in Q3, followed by Norris 1’34’853. His teammate Carlos Sainz was 4th. Max Verstappen ended up at the front, +0’005 ahead of the Monégasque, but the stewards cancelled his lap for track limits. Leclerc started on pole for the third time this season, the first time for the Scuderia after Singapore.
The number 16 was at the front also during the Sprint. He qualified 2nd, Verstappen being the pole man. Carlos Sainz was 6th on the grid. The team decided to put its drivers on different compounds: Leclerc was on mediums while Sainz was the only driver with the softs. At the start, Leclerc tried to challenge Verstappen for the 1st place, but was closed by the Dutchman. Lewis Hamilton overtook him from the exterior and took the 2nd place. In the meantime, Sainz defended from Norris, but had to give him the position at lap 7. The Spaniard dropped to 6th after being overtaken by Perez. He then defended the position from Russell until the end of the race. The Monégasque saw the checkered flag in P3.
How to lose a podium
On Sunday, at the start Leclerc lost a position to Lando Norris who became the leader of the GP. The number 55 had a good start and he overtook Hamilton. However, the British man fought to take back the position and Sainz had to give in at lap 4. Not only that, but the Spanish driver started to lose pace and was overtaken by Verstappen. The Red Bull driver was able to pass Leclerc as well at lap 11 after an incredible wheel-to-wheel.
The Scuderia chose to use different strategies for their drivers: while Sainz pitted for mediums, Leclerc stayed out and tried to extend the first stint as much as he could. He came back to the box later for hard compounds with the idea to keep these tyres for the rest of the race.
Max gets the better of Charles but not without a fight! 🍿
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 22, 2023
The Ferrari number 16 wasn’t able to defend the position against Verstappen and Hamilton. While the two world champions and Lando Norris secured a podium, the Ferraris had Perez at their backs. Sainz was in his teammate’s DRS zone and the Monégasque, following the team’s orders, let the Spanish pass to protect him from the Red Bull. Carlos Sainz tried to catch up the McLaren of Norris without success. Perez passed Leclerc who dropped in p6. In the last lap, Russell tried to pass Leclerc, but kept the place until the end.
After starting on pole position, Charles Leclerc had a very disappointing race due to a series of bad choices from his team.
Leclerc and Vasseur’s disappointment
At the microphones, during the post-race interviews, Leclerc said that he struggled with the chosen strategy.
“We can’t deny that the one pit strategy was clearly the wrong choice today. Our numbers were quite similar, but I struggled so much. If we look at the tyre degradation on the hards, it was good, but it’s clear that the two stops strategy was superior today”
–Charles Leclerc for Sky Sports Italy
He also commented about the choice to let Carlos Sainz pass, saying that he didn’t understand the choice at the moment, but the Scuderia explained that it was to protect from Perez.
“I’m not angry for this [let Sainz pass], but I’m disappointed for the strategy”
-Charles Leclerc for Sky Sports Italy
Even Fred Vasseur, Scuderia Ferrari Team Principal, commented on what happened on the track. He was as disappointed as his driver and confirmed that the one pit was not a good choice, after all. But he stated that it was not an impromptu choice from the team. The TP said that the team discussed it with Charles Leclerc, but it was clear that they didn’t have enough data.
Vasseur explained that this is one of the points he team has to improve. The French man concluded:
“We should have had a clear strategy for Charles, we were hesitant”
–Frederic Vasseur for Sky Sports Italy
Another bad news for Leclerc and Ferrari
The news came a few hours later in the checkered flag. The FIA announced that four cars were picked randomly for the regular controls after the race. While Verstappen’s Red Bull and Norris’ McLaren were considered in the norms, the Ferrari number 16 and Hamilton’s Mercedes did not. Following the FIA’s statement, the two cars didn’t respect the art. 3.5.9 of the 2023 Formula One Technical Regulations. Apparently, Leclerc’s car had an irregularity on the plank. In the Regulations, it’s stated that the plank has to be 10 millimeters in thickness, with a tolerance of 1 mm less after the race. The Ferrari, as it’s clarified in the document, had exceeded this limit for a few tenths of a millimeter.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 23, 2023
Scuderia Ferrari tried to defend its drivers before the FIA, however the decision was inevitable. Due to this irregularity on his car, the Monégasque was disqualified from the race. He dropped to P7 in the Championship, with 151 points.
The only positive note, even if quite bittersweet for the Tifosis, is Carlos Sainz being promoted to p3 after Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification.