Charles Leclerc said that he had expected his Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel to pull away from him after being ordered to let the German past at the Chinese Grand Prix.
Leclerc had initially leapfrogged Vettel from the start at the Shanghai International Circuit, but did not have the requisite pace to keep in touch with the leading Mercedes AMG Motorsport pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and forced Ferrari to reconsider its running order before the first set of pitstops.
The Monégasque driver allowed Vettel through on the pit straight at the start of the eleventh lap of the 56-lap race, but Vettel could not escape Leclerc in clean air.
Leclerc believed that both drivers’ struggle for tyre life contributed to the performance and added that he could not control temperatures and wear sufficiently in Vettel’s wake.
“Today’s race wasn’t one of my easiest, since it looks like we didn’t have a good enough pace to fight at the front with our competitors,” Leclerc said.
“My start was good, then I think both Seb and myself were struggling with the tyres.
“We swapped positions and I thought he would have pulled away but he didn’t and this didn’t help my tyres because I had a bit of overheating and I lost some time.”
Leclerc explained that Ferrari had hoped that he would have been able to make the end of the race on the hard compound tyres he came in for on lap 22, but the 21-year-old was forced to make a further stop to cover off the threat from Red Bull Racing‘s Max Verstappen with 15 laps to go.
However, Verstappen’s pace saw him easily jump past Leclerc and left him to finish a lonely fifth for the second time this season.
He said that Ferrari must analyse the weekend in full and return with a stronger fight in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.
“On my second set of tyres I hoped I’d be able to go all the way to the end,” Leclerc added. “But unfortunately [I] had to stop again and so lost a place.
“We will sit down all together in order to understand what could have been done better and I’m sure we will come back stronger at the next race.”