Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had admitted that Formula 1 stewards were “right” in handing him a time penalty at the Japanese Grand Prix that ultimately decided the world championship, contradicting the team.
Ahead of the Suzuka weekend, Leclerc knew the title would be his if Max Verstappen edged him by eight points and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez by six.
In reality, a Verstappen-led Red Bull one-two with Leclerc third would have given him the title – although Leclerc crossed the line second, albeit after cutting the final chicane.
When he gained an advantage over Perez, the stewards handed him a five-second time penalty – giving Verstappen full title-winning criteria – as full points were awarded for a form error.
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto expressed his “surprise” at how quickly the penalty was handed down – particularly after Perez’s reigning Singapore post-race, which lasted two hours.
However, Leclerc admitted that the stewards were actually correct in handing out the penalty.
“Well, I don’t have much to say,” Leclerc told the media after the race.
“I made a mistake and tried to minimize it by trying to go straight.
“I wasn’t aware that this was the final lap but the five second penalty was honestly correct.
Leclerc is now a point behind Perez in the battle for second place in the table with four rounds to go in the USA, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari had problems
After the race restarted, the field quickly switched to the intermediate tires but Leclerc quickly fell significantly from Verstappen’s pace.
He fell from 4.5 seconds to over 10 seconds and finally 26.7 seconds from the penalty meant he was 31.7 seconds behind.
The Monegasque admitted he went into ‘survival mode’ after inquiring about another pit stop for fresh tyres.
“We were very fast for four or five laps but unfortunately the race was a bit longer,” he said.
“The front was just gone after four or five laps and after that it was about surviving to the end of the race. The ending was extremely difficult.
“Obviously, Checo put quite a lot of pressure on the rear and I was really, really struggling with both of my front tires.
“In the end I made a mistake. But we really, really struggled today.”