SUZUKA, Japan — Sebastian Vettel admits events at the Russian Grand Prix could have been handled better after he ignored team orders to let Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc past during the race.
Although Mercedes ended up winning in Russia, Ferrari stole the headlines after a pre-race agreement between its drivers turned sour. Leclerc, who started from pole position, agreed to give Vettel, who started third, a slipstream down to the first corner to ensure Ferrari led the race on the opening lap.
The plan worked but Vettel ended up ahead of Leclerc and then refused to give the position back when he was asked to do so by the Ferrari pit wall. In the end, Ferrari shuffled Leclerc ahead of Vettel using tyre strategy before its hopes of winning vanished with an MGU-K failure on Vettel’s car that stopped him on track and gifted Mercedes a free pit stop.
After the race, Ferrari made clear it would deal with the confusion between its drivers internally and Vettel said both he and Leclerc talked with Binotto back in Maranello.
“Probably there’s certain things that we could’ve done better looking back,” Vettel said. “But in the end we look forward and look forward to this race and the next races. So not worried too much.
“We didn’t write anything in stone [regarding team orders in the future]. I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Leclerc said the pre-race agreement in Russia wasn’t clear and that measures would be taken to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.
“I think it’s clear from the beginning of the season that we need to obey team orders, and what is clear is that the situation wasn’t clear for both of the drivers at the start of the race. That is the most important thing and we will make sure that this situation doesn’t happen again in the future.”
Asked if his decision not to obey the message to let Leclerc past was based on the added pressure his teammate is applying this year, Vettel added: “No, not at all.
“Obviously I’m not happy if I am slower, whether it’s practice, qualifying or race but that has been the same, not just this year but years before as well — there are certain things this year I’ve struggled with here and there with the car which didn’t allow me to extract my best, but I don’t think it would have been any different if anyone else was in the car.
“Charles is doing a very good job, but I think it’s largely — and I genuinely believe it’s first a race against yourself and then the others. In that regard, I struggled to extract what I know I have in me. On other side, it also very quickly looks different on the outside than it does on the inside. There have been races where things didn’t fall into place and therefore things didn’t look great on the outside. But I think we were tackling the right things on the inside. So I’m not worried.”
Looking at the situation from the outside, reigning champion and rival driver Lewis Hamilton said the dynamic at Ferrari was clearly changing in favour of Leclerc.
“It’s an interesting dynamic they have there, because Seb was No.1 and is now clearly not,” he said. “Based on the energy and the outlook, they are trying to ramp Charles up to be [No.1].
“Is that good for a team? I don’t think so, but that’s the philosophy they have had forever, but we don’t complain because we have a philosophy that works really well here and we don’t plan on changing anytime soon.”