Scuderia Ferrari started the 2022 Miami Grand Prix from P1 and P2 with Charles Leclerc, but it soon became clear that Red Bull were the favourites to take the race win Miami International Autodrome. However, the Virtual Safety Car which was deployed on lap 41 opened up a world of possibilities for the final part of the race.
But Scuderia Ferrari took into consideration the data available at that moment and decided that pitting Charles Leclerc would not be the best option, because there seemed to many laps for the soft tyre. At the same time, a new set of hards whould have made it more difficult for Charles to get into the right temperature window, while Ferrari had no other sets of fresh medium tyres. Christian Horner said after the race that Ferrari let eventual winner Max Verstappen “off the hook”.
But does the data back up the Red Bull Team Principal’s statement? Ferrari sporting and strategy director Iñaki Rueda also confirmed after the Miami Grand Prix that pitting Charles would have been indeed the right call, but explained that the Maranello team could not anticipate certain key aspects.
In hindsight, let’s take a look at the telemetry data: Charles Leclerc started the race from pole position and kept first place after the start, but Carlos Sainz was passed by Max Verstappen and the Red Bull driver went on to overtake the Monegasque’s F1-75 car on lap 9. From that moment on, the Dutchman led 48 laps, weathering the Lap 41 VSC-turned-Safety Car on his way to the race win in Miami. Christian stated that Ferrari “would have had a free stop” – while Mattia Binotto felt that a lack of tyre warm-up would have compromised Charles Leclerc’s chances to successfully attack Max Verstappen after the restart.
When the Virtual Safety Car was deployed, Charles Leclerc had a gap of around 23 seconds to his Maranello team mate Carlos Sainz behind, and, taking into consideration the fact that the pit stop under VSC/SC conditions would have seen him lose about 15 seconds in the pit lane, the Ferrari driver would have had enough time to pit for a new set of tyres and return on track in second place.
But Ferrari had no mediums left and no new sets of softs available – but they did have a set of brand-new hard compounds. The graph below shows a projected trace of Charles Leclerc’s pace had he pitted for those hards.
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The key factor here is that even though Charles Leclerc’s pace would have been just about strong enough to overtake his title rival, the RB18 had a straight-line speed advantage that would have still made things difficult for Charles Leclerc to pass Max Verstappen on track.
However, Ferrari could have also attempted to use an old set of soft tyres, given the fact that the Safety Car was then deployed for six more laps, but of course the Maranello team could not have anticipated this when deciding on the pit. The soft tyre would have definitely allowed Charles to overtake Max Verstappen and build a solid gap of about 4-5 seconds until the final laps when the degradation would have limited its overall life.