Scuderia Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc admitted that he was “scared” in the final few laps before he secured his victory at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday. Now, Team Principal Mattia Binotto has come out to reveal that he too, was a nervous wreck and could hardly watch the last few laps as Leclerc nursed his Ferrari to the chequered flag.
Apart from the fact that reigning world champion Max Verstappen was on the Ferrari’s tail, something bigger was causing them both and everyone at the Ferrari garage to sweat buckets. On the 56th lap of 71, the second Ferrari driven by Carlos Sainz suddenly burst into flames after an apparent engine blowout.
At that moment, the Spaniard had just come out of the pits from his second stop and was ready to make what would have been a relatively easy pass on Verstappen to regain second place behind his teammate. The engine failure brought back nightmares for Leclerc, who had already missed out on two potential victories this season alone after experiencing similar mishaps while comfortably in the lead.
To make things worse, Leclerc suddenly started complaining of throttle pedal issues. The pedal was getting stuck, and the driver was having to pull it back up with his foot every time he needed to lift off the throttle. He was having to compensate for the problem throughout the closing stages, making it even more stressful for everyone involved, including Binotto.
“I have to admit I was very nervous, disappointed as well for what happened to Carlos [Sainz], but so nervous I stopped watching the race the last few laps!” he said, as quoted in the F1 website.
He also added that the team will be busy trying to figure out why Leclerc’s pedal malfunctioned. This is of course on top of finding a way to prevent another engine blowout in the future for both drivers.
Leclerc suffered similar power unit blowouts in Barcelona and Baku, but Binotto clarified that they were not the same problems. “I think we’ve got only two engine failures so far; the others were power unit more than internal combustion engine,” he shared.
Needless to say, the team is working hard to figure out what went wrong at every incident, and they are looking for solutions. The season is only halfway done, and they have started to claw back at the gap established by Red Bull in both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.
“We have new elements, and I know how strong they are and how hard [the team] are working, how good they are, and I can count on them that it will be addressed very soon – hopefully as soon as possible,” added Binotto.
Scuderia Ferrari entered the campaign as strong favourites after Leclerc quickly opened a 40-point lead in the championship in the opening stages. Now, they are trailing behind Red Bull with Mercedes also breathing down their necks.
“I think in terms of pure speed, [we are] very similar [to Red Bull], and qualifying is proving it. I don’t think there is much difference between the two cars,” said Binotto, making it clear that the season will be decided by which team can get their reliability issues in check as soon as possible. Red Bull suffered engine blowouts of their own in the opening races, but appear to have found solutions.