AP Photo / Andy Wong.

Shanghai - Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto defended a decision to use team orders in favour of four times Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

The German’s team mate Charles Leclerc had made a better start and was in third place, with Vettel close behind, when the team gave instructions for the Monegasque to let his team mate through early on.

The attempt to close the gap on Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who were pulling away at the front and won one-two, failed and Vettel finished third with Leclerc dropping to fifth.

“Certainly it’s difficult as a team to give the order because we understand the drivers, they need to battle, to stay ahead as much as they can,” Binotto, who took over in January, told reporters.

“We tried everything we could not to lose time on the Mercedes ahead and that was among the only chance we got at the time,” added the Swiss-born boss. “So, we tried. It didn’t work, let’s say.

“But I think it was right anyway to give that chance to Seb and I think as a team we did whatever we could.”

The move compromised Leclerc’s race, another blow for a youngster who was cruelly denied his maiden win by an engine problem two weeks ago in Bahrain after taking pole position and leading with the fastest lap.

It meant also that the 21-year-old, who was clearly faster than Vettel in Bahrain where he passed the German despite being told to stay behind, pitted later than his team mate for both his stops and was caught by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Reuters