Charles Leclerc finished fifth on his Scuderia Ferrari debut, but like team-mate Sebastian Vettel, he was unable to find the pace that the team appeared to have during pre-season testing, finishing almost a minute shy of race winner Valtteri Bottas.
Leclerc made a good start to jump ahead of Max Verstappen heading into turn one but lost the position again on the exit of the turn after being squeezed onto the grass by Vettel, and another mistake at the same turn early in the race lost him time.
In the final stint, Leclerc was the quicker of the two Ferrari drivers but was forced to play second fiddle to Vettel as team orders came into effect, but the switch to the hard as opposed to the medium compound appeared to make the car a little bit more competitive, particularly against the medium-shod Vettel.
“I made a good start, to the extent that I managed to pass Verstappen and found myself alongside Sebastian, who was fighting a Mercedes,” said Leclerc. “That meant I had to put my wheels on the grass at the exit of the first esses, which allowed Max to get in front of me again.
“At the start, the car was not so easy to drive and that led to me making a small mistake at the first corner, which cost me a handful of seconds. We decided to fit the hard tyres at the pit stop and, I have to say, that from then on, the car improved a lot and I was able to push.
“Towards the end, I closed on Sebastian, but the team decided to keep our positions, given that the top three places were not within our grasp today.”
Fifth position is Leclerc’s best result to date in Formula 1 and the points scored are good for the team, but he acknowledges that there is work to be done to understand why they were not as strong across the weekend as they were hoping to be.
“We will work with the engineers to try and understand why we were not as strong as we had hoped to be, even though we brought home a good points haul,” said Leclerc.