This weekend at the 2022 Austrian GP we saw the second of the year’s ‘Sprint’ events. Qualifying was on Friday instead of Practice 2 and the top three were covered by less than 0.1second – the closest we’ve seen since Bahrain 2020. In the Sprint the Ferrari’s looked quick, but given they were squabbling over P2/P3 for half of the event, this led to Max Verstappen building a comfortable and unassailable lead, taking the win.
Verstappen took quite a lot out of his tyres to establish the lead over the Ferrari’s at the start and without Sainz and LeClerc overtaking each other, there’s evidence they would have been as quick as the Red Bull driver.
Charles Leclerc commented after the Sprint, “I think tomorrow is going to be a long race and tyre management will be quite a bit more important compared to today. So probably tomorrow we cannot afford to do what we did today, no.”
Of course LeClerc starts the Grand Prix behind Verstappen and would be most happy if Ferrari told Sainz not to fight his team mate and hand an easy win to Verstappen.
When informed of his team mates comments, Carlos Sainz replied, “Mattia will decide. And the team.
“It’s not like we lost a lot and it didn’t look like Max was panicking too much up front with our pace. But we need to make sure we stay closer at the beginning of a stint, and we are closer at the end of a stint. I think this is what we need to try and do tomorrow.”
Charles Leclerc has been frustrated in recent weeks due to reliability issues and team strategy calls, particularly last time out in Silverstone where safety car strategy saw him lose the lead of the race and on fresher rubber his team mate was ‘handed’ the win.
As in Monaco, LeClerc went from P1 to P4 following Ferrari’s pit stop calls.
Yet Mattia Binotto has thugs far refused to bow to the pressure from his Monogasque driver to be installed as the team’s preferred driver.
After the Italian press raged at the Ferrari decisions in Silverstone, Binotto issued a statement and he was unapologetic for the decision the team made to pit Sainz but not LeClerc.
“At this moment it was common sense to prioritise the lead car by protecting track positions. There’s nothing unusual in this strategy, we always prioritise the lead car and therefore Charles in this situation. He was on fresher tyres at that point, and if he had pitted, our opponents would have done the exact opposite and gained track position on almost new hard tyres. Just think of Lewis Hamilton at last year’s season finale in Abu Dhabi when he stayed out on track.
“At the same time we decided to put Carlos on the opposite strategy in order to cover all opportunities. If we wouldn’t have done that split strategy, we would have risked losing the race and handing the win to our opponents.”
When asked about why Ferrari had not earlier requested Sainz let LeClerc through, Binotto clearly stated the team’s position.
“The answer is quite simple: it was not necessary to do it at that point and there was still a lot of time to make that decision. Our priority is always to maximise the situation in order for the best team result. Only when this goal is under threat do we need to act. We did this during the second stint and swapped cars when Carlos was not fast enough and our opponents were catching us.”
Given Binotto has repeatedly refuse to agree that by prioritising LeClerc this will ‘maximise the situation on order for the best team result”, it doesn’t look as though there Ferrari boss will acede to LeClerc’s “no fighting” request in Austrian.
Carlos Sainz is just 12 points behind Charles Leclerc and there is a good argument just half way through the season you don’t upset the Spaniard by asking him play second fiddle to the Monegasque driver.
Ferrari need Sainz to pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong for LeClerc but if he feels demotivated by not being allowed to fight for wins – that loss of mental edge could cost the team far more in points than accepting a P2/P3 in Austria rather than chasing an improbable win.