Ferrari: Sainz “agreed” to extend stint before his final stop at F1 Japanese GP

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Carlos Sainz ended the Japanese GP in his starting position, sixth place. Combined with his teammate Charles Leclerc’s P4, that allowed Ferrari to outscore Mercedes by four points as Lewis Hamilton and George Russell ended in fifth and seventh.

Ferrari’s Team Principal Fred Vasseur discussed the reasons behind the Spanish driver’s different but ultimately unrewarding pit stop strategy. Sainz extended his middle stint as he lost out to Hamilton who undercut him. In the first stint, it was tight as the Brit boxed a lap before the Spaniard.

“The first pitstop was really on the edge between keeping the two cars in front or Lewis getting within the two cars. It was a matter of tenths probably and it was the right call from the team and the second stop was a bit more strategic.”

Sainz had been the one to prompt the request to pit later than the Mercedes drivers he was battling with for the Top 5, entering four laps later than Hamilton and 14 after Russell, who was on a one-stop strategy, added Vasseur.

Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari

The 2023 Singapore GP winner had called for the move in order to have the opportunity to try and overtake Hamilton in the final laps, securing a bigger tyre delta and offset for the closing, heated moments in Suzuka.

“The call also came from Carlos that we agreed that we would have to extend to try and have a tyre advantage during the last couple of laps. Because if you copy Lewis, you [stay] behind him, and without a big delta you are going to stay behind him.”

Ultimately, the strategical plan didn’t pay off, as Sainz ended the race behind the seven-time World Champion, but he managed to pass a struggling Russell for sixth:

“The second one was a good call from Carlos, if you copied Lewis you would have had no tyre advantage and we decided to extend the stint a little bit to have the advantage. In the last two laps, it wasn’t quite enough with Lewis, but it was the right call,” the former Alfa Romeo Team Principal summed up.

On the other side of things, Mercedes’ Director of Trackside Engineering Andrew Shovlin recalled the thought process which led to the decision of pitting George Russell only once in a race that was expected to produce high degradation.

It was a no-lose situation as Alonso was never a threat to get him. Had they stopped with 4 or 5 laps to go, however, Russell would have rejoined behind Alonso.

“At the point we were deciding to do it, it was actually looking like, do we try and get to the end where we have a chance of being ahead of Sainz, or do we stop. We’d drop behind Alonso, would have got through with new tyres, and you’re behind Sainz anyway.”

“So whilst the odds of holding back Sainz on the one-stop were relatively low, the reason that we committed to it was by virtue of the fact that there was nothing to lose, and there was no risk to George on a one-stop from Alonso behind, so we stayed with it,” he concluded.

Ahead of the next round in Qatar, Mercedes is second in the Constructors’ Championship, with a 20-point advantage over Ferrari in third and 84 ahead of the struggling Aston Martin in fourth.