Ferrari Team Principal Frederic Vasseur has revealed that it was holding out for a red flag before electing to retire Carlos Sainz from Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Sainz, who started fourth, was aiming to get ahead of Lewis Hamilton at Turn 1 on the opening lap when Oscar Piastri’s McLaren positioned his car to the inside of the Ferrari.

Piastri ended up clipping the inside wall at the La Source hairpin, culminating in race-ending contact for the Australian and severe damage to the bodywork of Sainz’s car.

While Sainz was able to continue beyond the first lap, the Spaniard struggled for pace and was rapidly shuffled down the order until Ferrari eventually retired him on Lap 23.

Vasseur claims the damage cost Sainz “a lot”, but the Frenchman says Ferrari was reluctant to retire him earlier because of the potential for a red flag to appear when a mid-race rain shower arrived.

“In lap time no because it’s quite difficult because you’re losing downforce,” he said regarding the estimated time loss from the damage. “But it’s not just the downforce, it is the balance of the car.

“We never did the calculation of a potential lap time with x points and x points of balance, but it was a lot. We were just expecting a red flag at one stage to be able to fix it with the first shower, but when the show came without the red flag, we decided to stop it.”

After struggling at the previous two rounds, Ferrari returned to form at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit as Charles Leclerc secured the side’s third podium of the year.

That succeeded an encouraging two days prior to race day that had seen the Italian marque’s SF-23 car perform fairly competitively in a range of conditions.

Although Vasseur accepts that the field is separated by fine margins behind Red Bull, the Ferrari chief has challenged the team to minimise such wayward swings in performance during the second half of 2023.

“For sure, I’m happy that we did a strong weekend in every single conditions that are wet, slicks, long stints, short stints, that we are always there is good for us,” he explained. “Now we have to understand why we are more comfortable on some tracks than some others.

“But I think everybody is in the same situation that we are all a bit inconsistent. Because you have one or two-tenths between P2 and P11 it means that for characteristic of tyre management or level of downforce that you choose at the beginning of the weekend, you can do a very strong one and we don’t have to draw any definitive conclusion.

“But I think it will be like this until the end of the season and we have to be more consistent, to understand where we are weak, why we are weak and to try to minimise this kind of weekend.”

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23. 29.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Sprint Day.

A fine effort from Leclerc to qualify second on Friday evening on a drying track marked a stark contrast to the struggles he had endured in similar conditions at the Spanish and Canadian Grands Prix earlier in the year.

The Monegasque driver had vowed to work on improving his showings in mixed conditions, but Vasseur says he was never concerned about Leclerc’s troubles.

“Yeah he had difficult races in a row, you are right, he had the Barcelona quali and then Spielberg or Canada in mixed condition,” he acknowledged.

“But he wanted to do some laps with slicks in Silverstone on the wet to have a good feeling without pressure, without lap time and I think he did it and he did it perfectly.

“I was not worried at all because I know him for ages and he was always performant in these kind of conditions but I think he had a poor session in Barcelona that didn’t go pretty well but I think the conditions were more than tricky and I was a bit surprised with this but it’s behind us.

“He showed that the in these tricky conditions he was able to be consistently on the front of the pack and he did a good job.”

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