Mattia Binotto admitted the Eifel Grand Prix was a tough race for Scuderia Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel finishing seventh and eleventh respectively at the Nürburgring on Sunday.
Leclerc’s race started promisingly, with the Monegasque racer retaining his fourth place at the start, but tyre woes saw him drop away from the leading trio of Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen before Daniel Ricciardo found a way to pass him. He then headed to the pit lane and committed himself to a two-stop race and ultimately seventh place at the chequered flag.
As for Vettel, he started on the medium compound tyre with the aim of running long in the first stint, but a spin at turn one whilst battling Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN’s Antonio Giovinazzi compromised his day and forced him to battle in the midfield right until the chequered flag, ultimately missing out on points in eleventh.
Binotto, the Team Principal at Ferrari, said struggles to get the Pirelli tyres to work in the extremely cold conditions at the Nürburgring affected the team on Sunday, with Leclerc’s first stint costing the Monegasque racer a much better finishing position.
“It was a tough race today, mainly down to getting the tyre temperatures into the right operating window,” said Binotto on Sunday. “That was particularly the case with Charles who, after a good start, began to suffer with graining on the Softs, right from the first few laps, which meant he was unable to push as hard as he would have liked.
“We therefore had to pit him earlier than planned, immediately switching him to another strategy. Then, in the closing stages, when it would have been possible to pit under the Safety Car, we took the joint decision to leave him out on the Mediums, given what we had seen in the early stages of the race.
“As for Sebastian, the spin early on compromised his race and from then on, there was little to be done, even in the final laps when he was running the Softs.”
Binotto insists the team cannot be happy with seventh and eleventh place finishes, but everyone within Ferrari are still working on improving the pace of the SF1000 in a bid to move up the pecking order across the remaining six races of the season.
“Of course, we are not satisfied with this result, but we continue to work on improving our overall performance level,” said Binotto. “We saw signs of progress in qualifying, but the important thing is that the updates we are introducing seem to be going in the right direction, especially looking ahead to 2021.
“In the light of this, we should also have a few updates for the next race in Portimão.”
“The softest of the three compounds was somewhat fragile” – Iñaki Rueda
Iñaki Rueda, the Head of Race Strategy at Ferrari, says the low temperatures at the Nürburgring made for a difficult weekend when it came to the tyres, and gave the team headaches throughout the weekend to get them into the ideal operating window.
“Yesterday’s low temperatures meant that the softest of the three compounds was somewhat fragile due to graining, a phenomenon that occurs when you can’t get the tyres into the ideal operating temperature window,” said Rueda.
“They are designed to work at their best at a temperature just over 100°C, given the high level of aero downforce generated by the cars. Usually the track temp is somewhere between 30 and 40 degrees centigrade although the Pirellis can work fine up to 60°C, which we can see sometimes in Bahrain. It is pretty unusual to see the 15°C we had in Germany.
“When the resistance limit of the tyres is too high, you get blistering, while if it is too low the rubber rolls off the surface giving the driver the impression that he is driving on a very slippery surface, like driving a road car in summer on snow tyres, but this also accelerates the wear rate.
“That’s what happened to Charles at the Nürburgring yesterday, just as it did at the Hungaroring back in July, when he had taken on Softs when the track was still damp.”
Rueda says Leclerc’s first stint saw him lose a significant amount of time as he fought with the graining, and it also lost him track position to Ricciardo before he opted to hit the pit lane and get off the soft tyres on lap ten.
After that, Leclerc’s pace was much more representative and saw him gain some positions, although the gamble not to pit under the safety car ultimately saw him lose out to Pierre Gasly in the battle for sixth, who did make a stop for fresh tyres when the safety car was deployed.
“It was clear from the start his pace was poor, compared not only to the leading three but also to those behind him,” said Rueda. “He had managed to keep ahead at the start, but on lap 9, he had let Daniel Ricciardo through, as by then the front tyres were really graining badly.
“At this stage, it was too early to look at doing a one-stop, which was our preferred strategy, but it was also a bit on the limit for a two-stop. We had to minimise the damage and bring him in on the next lap to take on a set of Mediums.
“In the middle stint, Charles was much more comfortable and passed Nico Hülkenberg and Pierre Gasly, who were both on a one-stop which is what we were planning on at the time. On lap 35, he made his second stop fitting another set of Mediums and re-joined in front of the two of them.
“On lap forty-four, the race was neutralised after the incident with [Lando] Norris: at that point we had the option of pitting for another set of Softs – the Hards were not an option and we had no more Mediums – thus losing position to the two of them.
“We spoke to Charles by radio at that point and we decided to stay out on track, given what we had seen in the first part of the race. Gasly and Hülkenberg pitted for Softs and the Frenchman was able to pass our driver, but the German could not.”