Charles Leclerc says he would have won the Las Vegas Grand Prix without the final Safety Car period.
He said the decision not to pit when the Safety Car appeared made it hard to defend at the end of the race. He was passed by both Red Bull drivers, but regained second place from Sergio Perez on the final lap.
Leclerc lost the lead to Max Verstappen at the start but was able to pass his rival to regain the position during the first stint. Having made his first pit stop later than Verstappen, Leclerc was on course to finish the race with a single stop.
But when the Safety Car was deployed shortly after half-distance, Ferrari chose to keep Leclerc out, while others behind him, including Verstappen, pitted. Leclerc reported his tyres were fading at the end of the race and was unable to prevent Verstappen passing him to take victory.
“I really believe that without the Safety Car, the win was ours,” said Leclerc afterwards.
“We had on a really good first stint on the medium and I think we had five laps newer hard [tyres] than Max. I had a good four or five laps in order to bring them into temperature and we had done a really good job on that. So I was really confident that the win was ours.
“Then there was unfortunately the Safety Car. Max and Checo stopped and I stayed on my five-lap used hard – which is not too much, five laps, but the problem is that then when you cool them down during the Safety Car, to restart a used tyre is incredibly difficult with those temperatures. And there we lost the race.”
Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and
However he admitted it was a difficult decision to come into the pits not knowing if the Red Bull drivers behind him would come in.
“It’s always easy to say ‘I have only done five laps’. On the other hand I didn’t know what Max and Checo will do behind me. If they wouldn’t have stopped then being behind two Red Bulls will have been difficult to pass them. Now I would have stopped but now I know what they have done so it’s too easy to say.”
He admitted he was “disappointed to only finish second, but at the end that was the best we could do.”
“At the start it was very tricky because I think Max on the inside lost a bit of grip and brought me on the outside,” said Leclerc. “But then we had the pace, we passed him back and we were really strong, overall, so that was a really good race.
“We got a bit unlucky with the…