So the Russian grand prix certainly produced an intriguing race, despite Mercedes taking the win and leaving with a 1-2 it will be Ferrari taking the headlines over controversial team order calls that will leave both drivers asking questions.
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Vettel goes against Ferrari team orders in Russia
Ferrari provided drama in the opening stages of the Russian Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel going against team orders after taking the lead.
Vettel, starting from P3 on the grid at the Sochi Autodrom, passed both Lewis Hamilton and pole sitter Charles Leclerc on the long dash down to Turn 2.
After a brief Safety Car period passed, Leclerc was told that Vettel would let him by for the race lead as Ferrari tried to implement a pre-arranged race plan.
However, while Leclerc argued that Vettel benefitted from the slipstream and played the team game, Vettel responded by saying he would have overtaken his team-mate regardless.
“I would have got him anyways. But let’s breakaway for another two laps,” Vettel said after being told to swap places.
But Vettel continued to lead, prompting Leclerc to respond.
“You put me behind. I respected everything. We will speak later. But now it is difficult to close the gap obviously,” Leclerc said.
Ferrari were forced onto Plan C just 10 laps into the race as Vettel continued to stay ahead and opened up a four second gap to his team-mate.
Ferrari team radio: “Charles we will do the swap later on. Lewis is a bit close, and we want to push now into the race. We will do it later, just focus on your race, thank you.”
Leclerc responded: “I completely understand. The only thing is that I respected. I gave the slipstream, no problems. But then I tried to push at the beginning of the race, but it’s no problems.”
The Ferrari pit wall would have the final say by engineering the swap in the pit lane but, on Vettel’s return to the track, his MGU-K failed and was forced to retire.
It gifted Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes a cheap pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car and he would take the outright race lead from Leclerc…and go on to win the race.
Vettel ‘didn’t understand’ Ferrari team orders
Sebastian Vettel wasn’t sure what happened with Ferrari’s team orders as their race unraveled in Russia.
Vettel picked up the tow from team-mate Charles Leclerc at the start, overtaking him into Turn 2 to go from P3 to P1.
But with the Ferrari drivers now running one-two, the team then ordered Vettel to allow Leclerc back into the lead, something he refused to do.
Leclerc pitted first and was able to undercut Vettel, but the German soon ground to a halt with a suspected MGU-K issue.
That Virtual Safety Car period allowed Mercedes to pit Lewis Hamilton and keep him in the lead, with Leclerc ultimately forced to settle for P3 behind Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes recorded a one-two finish, keeping their 100% winning record in Sochi intact.
Vettel felt that he had a clear understanding with Leclerc before the race when it came to strategy, and didn’t understand how it all fell apart.
“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 maybe I missed something,” he told Sky Sports.
“I’m sure we will talk about it but it’s bitter today because we wanted to have the cars finishing one and two, so not the result that we wanted.”
“I thought it was clear what the plan was and I did my part, so I didn’t understand it in the moment, I just tried to do my race.”
Vettel didn’t want to go into details about the agreement which he had with Leclerc – he accepts that “people deserve to know”, but didn’t want to put Ferrari in a “bad position”.
“I don’t want to share to be honest,” he stated.
“Not a great deal but I don’t want to put the team in a bad position afterwards because somebody said something here and there.
“I know it’s not fair because I think people deserve to know, it’s not a big deal.
“Obviously Charles was in first, I was in third, and we were talking about a strategy to find a way past Lewis [Hamilton].