Leclerc failed to take his own advice in Russia

Charles Leclerc said he would “just shut up” and drive following his Singapore outbursts, but just one week later he failed to take his own advice.

The 21-year-old got very vocal on team radio at the Singapore GP after Ferrari used the undercut to put Sebastian Vettel ahead of him on track and ultimately send him to victory.

Now, Leclerc is young, any driver in such a situation would be upset, but he himself called his outbursts on team radio “inappropriate“.

From that point on he was going to “just shut up” and drive. So did he do that seven days later at the Russian GP? No, he didn’t.

Ferrari appeared to have hatched a plan for that race. Leclerc on pole was going to allow Vettel, starting P3, to pick up the tow behind him, in the process clearing Lewis Hamilton who split them, knowing that they needed to break away from Mercedes (on the slower tyres) to be in with a chance of winning the race.

It worked perfectly, Vettel built up serious speed behind his team-mate and passed him into Turn 2, with Leclerc following behind as the Scuderia pulled off the dream start.

But, the issue then came when Ferrari ordered Vettel to allow Leclerc back into the lead, something he refused to do and rightly so with him being the quicker driver, Leclerc not being close enough to pass and Hamilton lurking behind.

As it turned out that was all it took for Leclerc to get lippy on the radio again.

“You put me behind I respected everything, we will speak later. But now it’s difficult to close the gap obviously,” said Leclerc in response as the frustration built.

With the gap between the pair actually increasing and Hamilton making gains, Leclerc was informed that the swap would happen later in the race, and for now he should push.

“I completely understand,” he said. That was the correct response…oh no wait, there is more.

He added: “The only thing is I respected. I gave you the slipstream. No problems. And then I tried to push at the beginning of the race but I overheated the tyres but anyway, it’s no problems.”

That sounds like the same old moan to me with “no problem” added to try and take the edge off.

And with all the back and forth going on between drivers and pit wall, the swap back was engineered via the pit lane at the best time. An earlier swap was completely unnecessary.

Instead, he complained expecting his team to hand him the P1 back almost immediately. Patience, Charles. Patience.

With Vettel’s DNF we will never know whether there were more episodes of the soap opera to follow over the remaining laps.

But there is one thing we do know: Vettel is not going to relinquish all power to his team-mate without a fight.

Jamie Woodhouse

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Marko: Vettel has no future at Ferrari

As Ferrari continue to put out the flames from their disastrous Russian Grand Prix strategy, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko believes Sebastian Vettel no longer has a future at the team.

The Scuderia shot itself in the foot yet again as their pre-race plan backfired and left them with two unhappy drivers.

Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc held up his end of the bargain when he allowed Vettel to take the lead into Turn 1 at the Sochi Autodrom, but his German team-mate then failed to return the compliment as he apparently didn’t understand the tactics.

Leclerc made it clear that he was not happy during the race, but later insisted “the trust is still here” between the two team-mates.

Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto has played down the latest fallout, saying the driver rivalry is still “a luxury”, but Vettel’s former mentor Marko feels the four-time World Champion’s time at the Italian outfit may well be coming to an end.

“Ferrari have failed to win the race despite having the fastest car. Although Sebastian was the faster man, they sacrificed him. For me, Vettel has no future at Ferrari,” Marko is quoted as saying by Autobild.de.

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The provisional Russian GP grid

Daniil Kvyat will start his home race, the Russian Grand Prix, from the very back of the grid after incurring multiple power unit penalties.

The Russian driver arrived at the Sochi circuit aware that penalties awaited, however, it went from bad to worse as a fuel system problem in Friday’s practice as well as an engine issue in Saturday’s final practice meant he was also short of track time.

Kvyat will line up P20 with Robert Kubica in 19th place as the Pole also has multiple engine penalties.

Other drivers penalised included Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon, all engine related.

They will start P9, 16 and 18 respectively with Charles Leclerc on pole position for the fourth race in a row.

The provisional grid
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:31.628
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.402s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.425s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1.004s
5 Carlos Sainz McLaren 1.594s
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1.661s
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1.673s
8 Romain Grosjean Haas 1.889s
9 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.682s *
10 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 2.033s
11 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1:33.958
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1:34.037
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:34.082
14 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1:34.233
15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:34.840
16 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:33.950 *
17 George Russell Williams 1:35.356
18 Alexander Albon Red Bull 1:39.197 *
19 Robert Kubica Williams 1:36.474 **
20 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso **

* 5-place power unit penalty
** multiple power unit penalty

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‘Mercedes party mode more like afternoon tea’

Red Bull boss Christian Horner has said compared Mercedes’ ‘party mode’ to a spot of “afternoon tea” in the midst of a Ferrari revival.

Ferrari, on a winning streak of three races, have topped two of the three practice sessions ahead of the Russian Grand Prix with Charles Leclerc quickest in FP1 and Fp3.

The Scuderia are showing their strength in the first two sectors, while Mercedes seemingly cannot claw enough time back through the technical third sector, especially on one-lap pace.

Asked for his thoughts about the events of FP3 and the current pecking order ahead of qualifying, Horner firmly believes Ferrari are the team to beat again this weekend.

“I think Ferrari have got to be odds-on for pole,” Horner told Sky Sports F1 after FP3 in Sochi.

“We didn’t manage to get a lap in on the soft tyre [in third practice] but hopefully we can get quite close to the Mercedes. It looks pretty tight.

“I think Mercedes’ party [mode] is more of like an afternoon tea now compared to what Ferrari have up their sleeves.

“Of course you cannot write them off as look at what they have done but Ferrari are definitely the benchmark at the moment.”

Max Verstappen had a tricky FP3 session after going airborne over the kerb at Turn 2 and gently nudging his rear wing into the barrier at Turn 14 but Horner is unconcerned about the incidents.

“It was the lightest of touches,” he added. “We will do all the precautionary stuff that we need to do though, so we will have a good look at it.

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Ferrari left surprised by Mercedes’ race strategy

Ferrari boss, Mattia Binotto, has said the team are surprised to see Mercedes start the Russian Grand Prix on the medium tyres in Sunday’s race.

Charles Leclerc and Ferrari have recorded four pole positions in a row following a dominant performance at the Sochi Autodrom.

Yet it may not be all plain sailing in the race as an intriguing tactical battle potentially awaits on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton managed to dislodge Sebastian Vettel from the front row and will start the race on the medium tyres, compared to Leclerc and Vettel who will both start on the softs.

Binotto said that the option Mercedes took was not something they even thought about considering themselves.

“That is surprising to us, their choice [of starting on the mediums],” Binotto told Sky Sports F1.

“It is not something we were considering to be honest. I think we even need to try to understand why they did that choice.

“Certainly we feel the soft tyre has got a grip advantage at the start. The start will be key tomorrow.

“But maybe what they did is the right choice. Different strategies may do something interesting for the race and for the fans. We will see.”

Mercedes trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, said after qualifying that the Silver Arrows were “very keen” to start on the mediums following some overnight planning.

“One of the key things is that we’ve started on the medium tyres,” Shovlin said via Mercedes’ official Twitter channel.

“We were keen to do that. We think that will give us some options in race, even if we are behind the Ferrari cars or the Red Bull.

“Everyone else is on the softs so it is going to be quite interesting to see how that pans out.

“And obviously a phenomenal job by Lewis to get the car onto the front row.”

 

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Hamilton: Ferrari have a ‘jet mode’ for qualifying

Lewis Hamilton has said Ferrari can turn their car up to “jet mode” in qualifying as they have “crazy” straight-line speed at their disposal.

Mercedes have proven to be no match for Ferrari’s pace in Russia and Charles Leclerc nailed down his fourth pole position in a row at the Russian Grand Prix by a whopping four tenths to Hamilton.

Much has been made of Mercedes’ party mode over the years, but Hamilton feels Ferrari now have something much bigger.

“It was a tough qualifying session because these guys [Ferrari] have some crazy speeds on the straights,” Hamilton told Jenson Button in the immediate. post-qualifying interviews.

“They go to another level. That party mode you spoke about us having, they have something else beyond that: jet mode.”

Hamilton was delighted to learn on team radio that he had knocked Vettel off the front row and said he was not expecting to be as high up as P2 on Sunday’s starting grid.

He added:  “I gave it absolutely everything I had at the end and the team did a great job just to tinker and push forwards. I’m so glad it came together – I wasn’t expecting to get on the front row, that’s for sure. I’m really, really happy with it.

Hamilton will be lining up on the medium tyres after managing to get through on them in Q2 and he hopes he can overcome the slower starting tyre by “towing the life out” of Leclerc down the long dash to Turn 1.

“We’ve got to try something [strategy wise],” Hamilton said.

“We were fortunate enough to opt for a different strategy. It’s a long way down to Turn One which is not always the best for starts on the harder tyre, but I’m going to try and tow the life out of Charles if I get the chance.”

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P3 could be like starting from pole for Vettel

Ferrari test driver, Marc Gene, believes Sebastian Vettel being knocked off the front row at the Russian Grand Prix could be a blessing in disguise.

Vettel was provisionally due to start on the front row with pole-sitter Charles Leclerc until Lewis Hamilton dislodged him with his final Q3 lap which was quicker by a mere 0.023s.

Although Vettel has now been relegated to the second row, Gene thinks that could be the perfect spot for Vettel to potentially have the lead at Turn 1.

“Starting third is nearly like starting in pole [for Vettel],” Gene said in Sky Sport Italy’s coverage of qualifying in Russia.

“He can use Charles as a tow and can also think of passing Hamilton at the first turn. Let’s not forget that Mercedes are starting on the harder tyre so they will struggle.

“But both Ferrari drivers have to push hard because they have softer tyre and have to get a big gap away from Hamilton.”

Vettel also said there is a possibility of having an advantage of starting P3, but he is still not with his own performance after being out-qualified yet again by Leclerc.

“First you need a good start, then you worry about the rest. There is potentially an advantage if you’re in behind,” Vettel said in Sochi.

“But obviously I’m not entirely happy,” he added.

“I think I could’ve extracted the absolute maximum from the car. It was a disruptive Q1 but when we got to Q3 it was okay.

“The race will be decided tomorrow. The speed is there, so let’s keep it up.”

Vettel was also quizzed on being outperformed by Leclerc in qualifying but said he cannot see any particular trend as to why it keeps happening.

“I don’t think there’s any pattern standing out saying that he’s always faster in the same type of corners,” he said.

“As I said, obviously the last couple of races was closer than maybe it looked on the result, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

“Usually come race day I’m getting more and more confident in the car, and pace has never been a problem in the race.”

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Hamilton: Merc figuring out how to improve car

It was a day of toil for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes as he admits they are still “figuring out” how to improve the car after two disappointing sessions at Sochi.

Merc once again played second fiddle to Ferrari and Red Bull as Charles Leclerc was fastest in FP1 and Max Verstappen quickest in the afternoon with Hamilton only fourth fastest in FP2 and 0.798s behind the Dutchman.

The five-time World Champion had admitted in the lead-up to the Russian GP weekend that his Mercedes squad are far from favourites and he believes they are still well off the pace of the Ferraris.

“It’s been a day of discovery and exploring,” said Hamilton. “It started off not too bad and then it just didn’t really improve as with the others, who made some big progressions.

“We anticipated that we’re losing eight tenths of a second to the Ferraris or something on the straights. Nonetheless, we’ve been improving but they are improving at a serious rate.

“We’ve just been figuring out how we can improve the car, but it’s not an easy task.”

Asked if they can challenge the front two of Red Bull and Ferrari for the remainder of the weekend, he replied: “That is the million dollar question, I don’t know.

“Naturally I believe in my guys. I don’t think we’re getting the maximum maximum out of our car.

“That’s been the key issue we have had for the last three races. We’re still trying to discover it. It’s not easy out there.

“It’s good to see the competition doing well. But we want to be in there fighting.”

Team-mate Valtteri Bottas was a little bit faster than Hamilton as he was 0.646s off the leading Red Bull, but he admits they need to find something extra ahead of qualifying.

“Always good fun on this track, but Red Bull and Ferrari were a bit too quick today,” he said.

“It felt good and there were no massive balance issues with the car, maybe just struggling a little bit with the overall grip and sliding around. Apart from that, it felt good and I had fun.

“”We need to find some gains if we want to fight for the pole tomorrow.”

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No stress over penalty for Verstappen

“It’s only five places so it’s not that bad,” was Max Verstappen’s verdict after he was asked if he was disappointed with the decision to a grid penalty at Sochi instead of Singapore.

All four-powered Honda drivers will take engine penalties at the Russian GP after the Japanese manufacturer introduced its new Internal Combustion Engine (ICU).

With Red Bull struggling in Singapore, many believe it would have been better had Verstappen and Alex Albon taken the penalties last week.

And to compound matters, Red Bull are looking good in Sochi as the Dutchman topped the timesheets in FP2.

“It’s always difficult to judge to take a penalty,” Verstappen is quoted as saying by RaceFans.net. “I mean, if I would have thought that Singapore would be that difficult, I might have taken the penalty there.

“It’s just a bit of a question mark at the moment what went wrong there.”

Verstappen, though, insists he is not too disappointed.

“Not at all,” he said. “I think if you are quick you can still pass some people.

He added: “It’s only five places so it’s not that bad.”

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Leclerc: Strongest race pace since start of season

Things are looking good for Ferrari at the Russian Grand Prix with Charles Leclerc declaring that their race pace is probably the “strongest since the beginning of the season”.

Ferrari are on a roll as they have won the last three grands prix and they carried that momentum over to the Sochi Autodrom as Leclerc set the pace in FP1 while he was bumped down to second place in FP2 by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

The Monagasque driver feels there are a lot to be positive about after Friday’s outings.

“To be completely honest arriving in Singapore it was a big surprise for us to be so competitive,” he is quoted as saying by Sky F1. “Here, honestly we don’t see any reasons not to be competitive seeing the performance we had in Singapore.

“But Red Bull seems very strong so it’s going to be difficult and a tight fight with them, even though I know they’ve got a penalty.

“We’ve been strong on the race pace which I think is probably our strongest race pace since the beginning of the season, which is positive.”

Team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who won in Singapore last weekend, was 1.039s behind Verstappen’s pace in FP2, but he is confident Ferrari can improve further.

“It was a bit strange,” the German said. “We tried some stuff, and we need to decide what to keep and what to get rid of.

“Red Bull looked really quick this morning and also in the afternoon, especially in Sector 3.

“I think we can improve, especially in terms of balance, we’ll put it altogether and it should be a better day tomorrow.

“How much time we can manage? It’s difficult to know. But tomorrow we are on the good side of things.”

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