Ferrari ordered new signing Charles Leclerc to hold station behind Sebastian Vettel after he had closed in on the four-time world champion in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix, as the red cars were running in fourth and fifth. Leclerc obliged and he came home as requested behind his new teammate.
However, it seemed Ferrari had squandered an opportunity to gain the new championship point available to anyone finishing in the top ten who can secure the fastest lap of the race. The gap between Leclerc and sixth-placed Kevin Magnussen was big enough that Ferrari could have stopped the No.16 car for fresh tyres to attack at the end of the race.
In the end, it declined, and race winner Valtteri Bottas brought the point home for Mercedes with his effort on the penultimate lap. New team boss Mattia Binotto was worried about something going wrong in the pit stop.
“We had the window to pit Charles for new tyres and go for the fastest lap, but whenever you pit, it may be a risk, and I think it was more important for us to bring the car home and score the points. There are sometimes races where you are not the best but it is still important to score points, and at the end, that was our choice.
“We will eventually review the decision, but the decision was for that reason.”
Binotto’s first race in charge of the pit wall saw it live up to his pre-season declaration that Vettel would have priority treatment in terms of strategy. He admitted this call was an extension of that cautious mindset.
“When Seb pitted and put the medium [compound] tyres, he didn’t start on the new tyres with the grip that he was expecting, and he was attacked by Verstappen, we decided to hold his position on the track. We decided to bring the car home. He was managing the tyres until the end, and I think 10 laps to the end, we decided not to take any risks and hold positions, and bring the cars home scoring points.”
Ferrari failed to live up to pre-season expectations in Melbourne, with Mercedes recording a dominant one-two and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen taking the final spot on the podium. The pace displayed by Ferrari meant it had arrived at Albert Park as favourites to win the race.