Sauber’s tyre-saving strategy in the Mexican Grand Prix was so extreme Charles Leclerc had to be told 50 times to slow down to preserve his rubber.
The team’s messages to Leclerc were so persistent he suspected his car had a fault the team didn’t want to tell him about over the radio. “Do we have a problem on the car?” Leclerc asked towards the end of the race.
Leclerc ran a one-stop strategy and was one of just five drivers who started the race on the softest, hyper-soft tyres. He kept these on for 13 laps then switched to super-softs for a 56-lap run to the chequered flag.
Sauber gave Leclerc his first instruction to save his tyres as he accelerated out of turn 11 on the first lap of the race. Except for a brief spell towards the end of his first stint, and a few occasions when he had an opportunity to gain a position on a rival, Leclerc was repeatedly told to protect his rubber throughout the 71-lap race.
To ensure he made his second set of tyres last to the end of the race Leclerc was given a lap time target of 1’25.5. His fastest lap of the race indicated he was capable of lapping at least five seconds quicker than that.
Despite his slow pace, Leclerc had consistently strong acceleration out of the final corner which, combined with his Ferrari power unit’s performance, made him hard to pass. “Leclerc is unbelievably strong in turn 16 exit,” commented Kevin Magnussen on his radio, “so I’m not going to overtake.”
Sauber also used Leclerc’s team mate Marcus Ericsson to delay rival cars by extending his first stint. “More management, keep position, save brakes, it’s not a nice call guys,” Ericsson complained.
Leclerc was frustrated by the repeated instructions to slow down and asked his team on several occasions whether he could push to catch Nico Hulkenberg ahead of him. “Charles, forget Hulkenberg,” he was eventually told, “our target is to stay ahead of [Stoffel] Vandoorne. You can slow down, slow down. We need more tyre saving.”
Leclerc finished the race in seventh, 11th seconds behind Hulkenberg and two laps behind race-winner Max Verstappen.
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Charles Leclerc Mexican Grand Prix team radio excerpt
|To Leclerc:||Look after the tyres, look after the tyres and try to keep Perez behind.|
|To Leclerc:||But remember we need tyre saving.|
|To Leclerc:||You can use overtake button to defend.|
|To Leclerc:||Behind Perez is Bottas, blue flag for him.|
|To Leclerc:||So let him go and focus on tyre saving. Focus on tyre saving.|
|To Leclerc:||Back to spark four.|
|To Leclerc:||Brake saving, stage two.|
|To Leclerc:||So now it’s again Magnussen behind and maximise focus on tyre saving.|
|To Leclerc:||36 laps to go.|
|To Leclerc:||Tyre saving sector two.|
|To Leclerc:||Increase the gap to Perez to four seconds. We need more tyre saving.|