It has been revealed that Charles Leclerc ignored team orders to stay behind Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel during the early stages of the recent Bahrain Grand Prix.
A poor get away for the Monegasque driver saw him drop down to third after he was passed by Vettel and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap.
However, a lock-up for the Finn into Turn 1 on Lap 2 allowed Leclerc to re-take the position off Bottas and hunt down his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Four laps later, Charles told his race engineer “I’m quicker, guys.” This team radio message was played on the live-feed during the race, but the reply for the team was not.
Leclerc was told by his race engineer to stay behind Vettel for two laps. However on the next lap, Leclerc ignored the instruction and instead overtook the four-time champion around the outside of Turn 1.
It got very intense in the Ferrari garage as Vettel didn’t let up easy with the German trying to take back the position at Turn 4 nearly hitting the back of his team-mate. Thankfully no contact was made and both were able to continue without issue.
Ferrari added that they did not tell Vettel that Leclerc had been told to hold position temporarily. It is no shock that these orders were giving as Leclerc was also told during the Australian Grand Prix to stay behind his team-mate to “bring the cars home”, an instruction he obeyed.
After the race, Leclerc explained the team orders from his perspective:
“I was just letting them know [I was quicker].”
“Then I think I had an answer, saying to me ‘Ok, stay like this for two laps’ but then on the next straight I had the opportunity to go for it, so I went for it and it was a successful pass and then I was just quicker, so then I did my race.”
Leclerc also said the team had warned them both before the race to take extra caution when fighting with each other.
“It’s always a tricky situation when you get to fight your team mate because the risks are very high,” Leclerc added.
“As in every team, I think, they warn you before the race ‘Ok, you can try things on different people, but with your team-mate, please be careful’, which is something normal.”
“But I had the opportunity on lap five and I didn’t hesitate, I just [went] for it.”
“I was happy it was successful the first time I tried, especially after the bad start. So, yeah, happy with how it ended up.”
Leclerc was cruelly denied his first Formula 1 victory when he encountered the issue in the closing stages of the race and dropped to third, which was aided by a late safety car.
Ferrari will take the engine back to its factory in Maranello for further investigations, but the Scuderia hope it can be used during free practice ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.
“It is an engine problem,” team boss Mattia Binotto said.
“We had mis-combustion on one cylinder but the reason is yet to be understood.”
“The engine will go back to Maranello for careful checks because when something like this happens you need to take your time to do your checks carefully.”
“But the engine was running at the end of the race so it is still able to run.”
“We will use it certainly on the Friday in China and we have an entire Friday to assess its behaviour, its functionality and its performance.”
Ferrari will be encouraged by their pace in the desert, but will be hoping to sort their reliability issues out to hit the ground running in Shanghai for Formula 1’s 1000th race, the Chinese Grand Prix on April 14th.