SILVERSTONE, England -- Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has defended his team's strategy at the British Grand Prix after giving multiple reasons for the decision not to pit Charles Leclerc under a late Safety Car.
Leclerc was leading the British Grand Prix when a Safety Car was called on Lap 39 for Esteban Ocon stopping his Alpine car on track.
Ferrari had time to call Leclerc into the pits, but instead opted to keep him out on track while pitting teammate Carlos Sainz, who was running in second place.
By opting against pitting Leclerc, it meant he was on much older tyres than his rivals at the restart and he ultimately lost places to Sainz, Hamilton and Sergio Perez, who had all stopped for fresh tyres under the Safety Car.
When Ferrari told Leclerc to stay out there was a nine second gap to Sainz at Safety Car speeds, which should have been enough to clear him from the pit box before Sainz came in. However, Ferrari's strategists believed it was not possible to complete pit stops on both cars on the same lap and therefore told Leclerc to stay out.
"What happened was our two cars were too close to stop both of them, so we had to take a decision [on which one to stop]," Binotto explained. "We were the only one with two cars fighting for the good positions, the other teams had one car and certainly the decisions are a lot easier.
"In our case we had the two cars and there was not a sufficient gap to stop both of them because the second would have lost time at the pit stop and fallen back.
"So why then by deciding to stop one did we stop Carlos? Because Charles had the track position and was leading, so he would have remained the leader of the race. Because his tyres were fresher than the ones of Carlos had [before the Safety Car period], I think six or seven laps less than the ones of Carlos had and in better shape.
"And Carlos by stopping and still being second, he would have stopped the others, at least in the first couple of corners when we knew starting on the hard [compound tyre] would be the most difficult. So that was the reason we decided. And then we were hoping for more tyre degradation on the soft to give Charles maybe a difficult three or four laps initially but recovering later on, but the soft didn't degrade as we were hoping."
Asked how he reacted to those saying Ferrari threw away a chance for Leclerc to slash the gap to title rival Max Verstappen in the standings, Binotto said: "What would they have done then differently?
"I think the decision we took was the right one, the proper one, each single time. Should we have stopped at the Safety Car is maybe the only one we are questioning, I think.
"If we would have stopped him maybe the others would have stayed out and he would have maybe been fourth on soft tyres. On the other side, would he have been able to recover the position? Not sure.
"I think that obviously with hindsight it's easy to say that we could have done [something] differently. Once again we have a Safety Car at the wrong moment when we are leading the race comfortably."
At the Safety Car restart, Sainz's engineer asked him to keep 10 car lengths to Leclerc -- the maximum distance allowed between cars at a restart under the regulations -- so that Leclerc would have more of a chance of defending position on his old tyres at the restart. At the time, Sainz refused to follow the order, saying Ferrari was "inventing" the race result, and Binotto later agreed his driver was right to ignore the order.
"Not only is it OK, but I am very happy with what Carlos did today, because for example when we asked him earlier to swap positions [with Leclerc earlier in the race], he did that with no discussion. When we told him to give a space to Charles after the restart, what he said was not that he didn't want to do it, he said the guys behind me would be very aggressive, so I need to protect and somehow try to react, so leave it to me.
"So I think he understood properly what the intention was and I think he not only understood but I think he is very good with the way he was acting and I am very happy with this."