Ferrari has shot down the belief that it let Red Bull “off the hook” by opting against pitting under a safety car late in the inaugural Miami Grand Prix.
A crash involving AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Lando Norris on lap 41 triggered yellow flags and appeared to gift Ferrari a supreme opportunity to shake up the race with a strategy gamble.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was leading the race, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were sitting in second and third respectively.
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Therefore, pitting for fresh rubber under yellow flags, and in doing so losing minimal time due to the slowing of cars, appeared to be an irresistible move.
While Verstappen had passed the pits by the time a virtual safety car became a full safety car, Leclerc and Sainz were yet to do so.
But, surprisingly, Ferrari kept both drivers on the older tires.
All Red Bull and Ferrari drivers were on hard.
“Ferrari let us off the hook slightly when it went from a virtual safety car to a full safety car,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
“Max had already passed the pit entry, whereas Ferrari would have had a free stop. They didn’t take it with either of their cars.
“We’re grateful for that, because I think if they did put soft tires on, that would have been a P3 today (for Verstappen).”
Instead, Verstappen banked a second win in succession as Ferrari took out second and third.
But Ferrari had exhausted its new softs and mediums, and chief Mattia Binotto explained the thinking behind leaving the fresh hards in the garage.
“We believed that in terms of warm-up, a used tire would have been stronger than a new one,” Binotto said.
“We would have suffered more warm-up issues with a new hard, which were the ones that we had available in the garage.
“So we decided to stay out because we believed that was the best chance for us to have a good warm-up and attack in the first laps (after the safety car period), which is what happened.
“I think that the best opportunity for Charles had been just on the very first lap after the safety car, and certainly he was close at that stage.
“And for Carlos, as well, (it helped) to try to defend on Checo (Sergio Perez) with the new medium.”
Despite having a tough time as he fought to stay ahead of Perez, Sainz backed Ferrari’s call to remain on the track.
“I knew Checo was going to pit because he had a new medium,” Sainz said.
“Our alternative was a used soft, or a new hard, which for me – both of them were not good enough for 10-12 laps.
“I think it was the right call because in the end we managed to keep (Perez) behind.
“But it was tight, he had everything, all the cards to actually pass me. I’m a bit surprised that we stayed ahead because it was a tight, tight battle.”
Verstappen’s brilliant weekend in Miami, which saw him win and collect a bonus point for clocking the fastest lap, means the table-topping Leclerc is now just 19 points ahead.
The title battle will resume at the Spanish Grand Prix next weekend.
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