Sebastian Vettel feels he stuck to the Ferrari Formula 1 team’s pre-Russian Grand Prix agreement, despite failing to adhere to an order to hand Charles Leclerc the lead.
Vettel started third, but overtook Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton off the line then drafted past polesitter Leclerc on the approach to the first braking zone at Turn 2.
Conversations between the Ferrari pitwall and Leclerc indicated he had deliberately towed Vettel and allowed him through, which was corroborated by team principal Mattia Binotto after the race.
But while Leclerc expected the positions to be swapped back immediately, Vettel did not yield despite Ferrari’s instruction to do so and instead told Ferrari it should ask Leclerc to “close up”, before extending a four-second advantage over Leclerc in the first stint.
Vettel, who retired with an engine issue after his pitstop, refused to be drawn into the specifics of the pre-race agreement when speaking to TV crews afterwards, but said: “I think I stuck to the agreement.
“Obviously it was a big shame because I think we had a good chance today to finish first and second.”
Asked again on his view of the arrangement after it had been explained by Binotto in Ferrari’s media session, Vettel said: “I think on my side it’s best if I don’t say anything.
“I think Mattia gave an explanation which is valid, so [let’s] leave it there.”
Binotto subsequently said he felt neither driver had been in breach of the pre-race agreement.
Ferrari pitted Leclerc earlier than Vettel, and Leclerc’s laps on fresh mediums allowed him to cycle back ahead of his team-mate once Vettel had been called into the pits.
Asked whether he would have been open to letting Leclerc through had he remained ahead until the end of the race, Vettel said: “I don’t know what happened, I wasn’t really aware when Charles was going to pit, because obviously you do your own race.
“I was aware of the fact I was quite a bit down the road.
“And obviously the last laps before the pitstop I was struggling more and more with the tyres. So I realised that it would be time to pit.
“When I got out, I found myself behind, then I had a problem and so on – and obviously the bigger downside was the fact that we had to retire.
“It didn’t come to that stage [where I’d have to consider a late-race swap], so it’s a bit pointless [to discuss now].”