First friction then failure as Ferrari lose out in Sochi
SOCHI – Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were both left looking nonplussed after a Russian Grand Prix race either of them should have won was handed to Mercedes and world champion Lewis Hamilton.
A clear-the-air talk seemed the order of the day after Vettel appeared to ignore team orders, and Leclerc's chances were then torpedoed when his team-mate retired with an engine problem.
"I have actually kept my part of the agreements," Vettel said, adding he needed to clarify with the team what the position was after he had been handed the lead by Leclerc shortly after the start.
Leclerc was equally in need of some explanations after Vettel seemed in no mood to give the lead back as agreed.
"The tactic was me giving the slipstream to be one-two at the end of the straight, which happened. But then...I don't know, I need to speak with the team to know better the situation," he said.
Vettel retired on the 28th of 53 laps on the Sochi circuit, soon after he had eventually relinquished the lead to Leclerc as a result of their pit stops.
Vettel had got past Hamilton and gone ahead from third on the grid after pole-sitter Leclerc had allowed him to pass, on the understanding the positions would be swapped later.
Vettel though stayed in front. Judging by team radio exchanges, this was not part of the plan. Neither did Leclerc show any inclination to push.
"I trusted completely in the fact that we would swap back so there was no need to take any risks at that time, and that's why I just didn't fight," said Leclerc, who also maintained that "the trust is still here" between the two team-mates.
It was Vettel's retirement and the virtual safety car phase that ensued that proved decisive. Hamilton used the neutralised period for his change from medium to soft tyres, which enabled him to go on to end a three-race winning streak by Ferrari.
"The safety car caused by their own car gave us the win," Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said.
On the apparent differences in the first half of the race, Vettel said: "I don't know exactly what happened. I think we had an agreement. I spoke with Charles in particular before the race. I think it was quite clear, but I don't know, maybe I missed something?
"I'm sure we will talk about it, but obviously it is bitter today because we wanted to have the cars finishing one and two. It's not the result that we wanted."
It was in the end another setback for 32-year-old four-time world champion Vettel, whose status in the team has been shaken by his 21-year-old team-mate.
In his first season with Ferrari and only his second in F1, Leclerc is now alone in third place in the standings, moving to 215 points in the drivers' standings, three ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen and 21 up on Vettel.
Hamilton meanwhile remains on course for a sixth title. He advances to 322 points, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas on 249, as F1 now heads on October 13 to the Japanese Grand Prix, where Hamilton is a five-time winner.DPA