Ferrari had a disappointing race in Australia by all accounts. Having already underperformed on the Saturday qualifying Ferrari’s race got even worse as a change of tires for Sebastian Vettel, in the 14th lap, left him exposed as the car refused to perform its best with the Medium compound tires and not only did Vettel start losing sight of Hamilton in the 2nd place, but Max Verstappen in a much fast car passed him with half the race left, which left both Ferrari drivers in 4-5 position and not in touching distance of those ahead of them, nor those behind them.
This lonely race did not lack late drama though as a surging second half performance from young Leclerc saw him catch up to Vettel with about 9 laps to go in the race. Leclerc, in his first race for Ferrari, did the sensible thing and asked his team if he should overtake Vettel and the team gave him a negative on that, following which he backed off and both cars finished in the same 4th and 5th positions.
Team boss Mattia Binotto praised Leclerc for being a team player and explained why the team asked him to not pass Vettel. Binotto explained that Vettel’s car was struggling for grip on the Medium compound tires and he had been managing the pace on his car to avoid any further damage that the street circuit of Albert Park could cause. The team might have been afraid of Vettel charging back up to compete with his team mate might have resulted in incidents that would’ve made this dour day even worse for the team, so they asked Leclerc to keep his distance from Vettel.
“When Seb pitted for the medium tyres he didn’t have on that new tyres the grip he expecting and he was attacked [and passed] by Verstappen. So we decided to bring the car home. He was managing the tyres to the end and I think that 10 laps to the end as a team we decided not to take any risks, hold positions and bring the cars home, scoring points,” said Binotto.
Here is the team radio of @Charles_Leclerc asking if he should stay behind Vettel
Charles: "Should I stay behind Sebastian? Yes or no?"
"Yes and back off to have some margin"
— tami. (@Vetteleclerc) March 17, 2019
“I’m happy with the way he is behaving as a team player, not only as a driver,” he said.
“He’s very helpful for the team. He is very involved, trying to do his best, pushing hard the engineers to improve and have a better car. I think if we judge his entire weekend it’s a pretty strong one. His quali wasn’t perfect, he’s aware of it.”
“But I think he drove well through Q1 and Q2, maybe not perfect in Q3. But generally speaking he had a good weekend. I think his second stint was also performing well. So I’m quite happy with the way he’s approaching the first race. He’s at the starting point, it’s a good starting point.”
Binotto however did say that the team would analyze its decision to not go for the extra point by pitting Leclerc for a fresh set of Soft tires during the final laps. Leclerc was 30+ seconds clear of Kevin Magnussen in 6th position and could have easily pitted for a final burst of pace on the final few laps with a new set of tires as a regular pit stop sets a driver back by close to 21 seconds in the Australian Grand Prix.
Binotto said, their primary focus was to get both cars to the end with their respective positions without losing any further points so a call was made to not go for the fastest lap, however they will still analyze if the right call was made, and plan ahead accordingly.