Ferrari have stood by their decision to hand Sebastian Vettel preferential treatment in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
As Lewis Hamilton moved into the lead of the championship for the first time this season, by virtue of winning Formula One’s 1,000th race, Charles Leclerc found himself under instruction to relinquish third place to his more experienced team-mate.
Leclerc, in just his third outing for Ferrari, had been reluctant to move aside for Vettel, and later dropped behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, too, after the Dutchman stole a march with an early stop for new tyres.
The Monegasque, who has now been issued a team order by Ferrari at each of the opening three rounds, admitted he was frustrated with the decision and wanted an explanation.
But Mattia Binotto, the rookie team principal for Ferrari, insisted they delivered the correct call in favouring Vettel, the four-time world champion and winner of 52 grands prix.
“We made the right choice,” he said.
“It was not easy to give the order, and I thank Charles for the way he behaved and showing he is a good team player.
“We tried everything we could not to lose time on the Mercedes cars ahead and that was among the only chance we got at the time. So, we tried. It didn’t work. It was right to give Seb that chance.”
Hamilton finished ahead of Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes secured a hat-trick of one-two finishes from the opening three rounds.
The Englishman, a six-time winner in Shanghai, is already 31 points clear of Vettel in the championship as he chases a sixth title.
Leclerc is a point further back.
“We definitely didn’t expect to have three one-twos, but I’m proud to have been part of the work that everyone has done and to be a part of these results,” said Hamilton as he celebrated his 75th career victory from 232 starts.
Hamilton, who is now just 16 wins shy of Michael Schumacher’s win record, jumped pole-sitter Bottas with a fine getaway.
“The start was where I made the difference,” he added. “After that it’s history.”