Charles Leclerc claims that Ferrari's tow strategy for the French Grand Prix failed on the first attempt in Q3 as he followed teammate Carlos Sainz through the Mistral straight chicane.
Leclerc: Ferrari's first Q3 run for the French Grand Prix used improper tow tactics.
Although Sainz will start Sunday's Paul Ricard race from the back of the grid due to his post-Austrian GP retirement engine replacement, Ferrari advanced the Spaniard to Q3 so he could assist Leclerc in his duel with Max Verstappen of Red Bull for pole position.
In the last segment of qualifying, Sainz always led Leclerc out of the pits. Sainz waited for Leclerc to pass through the Mistral chicane before towing him through Signes and up to Le Beausset before stopping before the right-hander.
Although Leclerc led Verstappen by 0.008s after the opening runs of Q3, he added 0.02s over his previous personal best in the second sector of his pole-winning 1m30.872s.
Leclerc explained that this was due to the fact that the initial effort at towing had failed, since such maneuvers are "very difficult to execute precisely."
“The first lap maybe we were a bit too close in [Turns] 8/9, so I lost a little bit there and I just drove not in the best way possible,” he said in the post-qualifying press conference.
“And then in the second lap we adapted that and then it was better and that was the lap [that got pole].
“We did a good job communication-wise and so Carlos helping me was amazing.”
When questioned by Motorsport.com if Ferrari had practiced its tow tactics prior to Q3, Leclerc responded, "No, we did not practice prior to Q3."
“So, we did quite a good job between the first run of Q3 and the second run of Q3 – we did a good step in the right direction.”
Sainz finished ninth, but his penalty will drop him to 19th for tomorrow's race, ahead of Kevin Magnussen, who also received a penalty. The Spaniard confirmed after qualifying that Ferrari had always intended to employ the tow strategy in consideration of his penalty.
“The target was to get to Q3 to give Charles the tow two times as we did,” said Sainz. "Thus, the plan for the entire weekend.
“I know how to give a good two because I know what I need in my quali lap if I wanted to gain two, three tenths from a tow.
Therefore, I understood what to do from the start, and I believe we did it well.
Despite the fact that the plan had been agreed upon beforehand, Leclerc thought that because it was unrehearsed, he "understood that Carlos would eventually get out of the way, I simply did not know when."
He added: “But yeah, Carlos judged it perfectly and got out the way at the right moment.”
Verstappen finished 0.304 seconds behind Leclerc, but he did not believe Ferrari's tow gain was the main reason it won pole position.
The Dutchman stated that Red Bull did not consider employing similar strategies with third-place qualifier Sergio Perez.
“No, we are both of course trying to get the best possible qualifying result,” he explained.
“It’s a bit different [for Ferrari] – Carlos is starting from the back, so I think it was a smart thing to do and probably if one of us had to start from the back something similar can happen as well.”