Charles Leclerc admitted his Austrian GP second place was a “huge surprise” as Ferrari bounced back on Sunday, although Mattia Binotto was unimpressed by Sebastian Vettel’s spin in the season-opener.
Ferrari had little optimism heading into the race after qualifying only seventh and 11th, with F1’s most successful team seemingly arriving in Spielberg with only the fifth-fastest car.
But Leclerc converted that fourth-row start into an unlikely podium, taking advantage of every opportunity in an action-packed first race of F1 2020 – including Lewis Hamilton’s late time penalty which lifted him up a place.
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Leclerc’s display, which included several spectacular lunges, was praised as a “champion’s drive” by Sky F1’s Martin Brundle.
But Vettel had an afternoon to forget.
In the first race after his exit at the end of the season was confirmed, Vettel spun – coincidentally when trying to overtake Carlos Sainz, the man who is replacing him at Ferrari, and Leclerc – and finished down in 10th.
“It’s not been his greatest race today,” said Ferrari team boss Binotto. “The spin and contact was certainly not a great action from his side.”
Leclerc’s delight after unlikely podium
That Leclerc was so shocked by his 11th F1 podium tells you just how far off the pace Ferrari have been, with the team awaiting major upgrades to a car which hasn’t changed since pre-season testing back in February.
“I did not expect it,” said Leclerc, whose overtake on Sergio Perez was one of the moves of the day. “A huge surprise, but a good one. I think we did everything perfect today – we knew we
“Every time I had an opportunity on track I took it, in an aggressive way as that’s how I had to drive.”
He added: “I’m extremely happy but that doesn’t make me forget that we need to work extremely hard to get better because that’s not where we want to be in terns of performance.
“Yes the result is amazing but there’s still a lot of work to do. Everyone is motivated and that shows everything is possible, a race today. But we won’t be as lucky as today every weekend. We’ll push hard.”
Ferrari say they are lacking “everywhere” compared to their rivals, with Binotto even claiming that they are losing “seven or eight tenths” to race-winners Mercedes.
“That was a champion’s drive from Leclerc,” said an impressed Brundle. “He’s probably driving for the fifth-fastest team on the grid and he’s managed to finish second, and deserves a lot of credit.
“A little bit lucky in places. But as he said, he was as aggressive as he needed to be and picked his battles. And he certainly picked them well.”
But what happened to Vettel?
Leclerc and Vettel certainly had contrasting days.
Vettel started 11th and made ground to be just two places behind his team-mate following the first Safety Car, but as future team-mate Leclerc and Sainz battled into Turn Three, Vettel tried to take advantage with a move up the inside.
But the four-time champion, who wants to remain in the sport next year, spun, made contact with the McLaren and fell back down the field.
“It was quite an embarrassing spin as well,” said Sky F1’s Jenson Button. “I’ve always stood up for Seb but that was one he will look back on and be very upset with himself.”
Vettel eventually scored a point, although only as the 10th finisher of 11.
“To be honest I’m happy that I spun only once,” said Vettel, who struggled with the SF1000’s handling. “It was very difficult.
“It got very tight and I think Carlos turned in and I was just on the edge because I wanted to be as close as possible. But to be honest I lost the rear a couple of times today, as I said I’m happy it happened only once.
“We need to have a good look but for sure the car was very difficult to drive today.”
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