Ferrari performed a strategic masterclass on Saturday at the French Grand Prix, to secure yet another pole position for Charles Leclerc.
With the Scuderia already being aware that Carlos Sainz would start from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty, the Italian team used the Spaniard’s appearance in Q3 to their advantage.
Ferrari positioned Sainz on track just ahead of Leclerc between Turns 9-11, to give the Monegasque driver an unbelievable tow worth almost two-tenths of a second, according to Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko.
Sainz judged the entire plan to perfection, and dived out of the way before his team-mate turned into Turn 11.
Had Sainz not done this, then there is a real possibility that Max Verstappen may have claimed pole; however, it was instead Leclerc’s seventh P1 of the season.
After the session, the 24-year-old explained that he “knew” his team-mate would move out of the way, after Leclerc had complete “trust” in the Spaniard.
“It is all in the trust in the end,” explained Leclerc.
“I knew Carlos was going to get out of the way at some point, I just didn’t know when, but he judged it perfectly and got out the way at the right moment.”
Ferrari’s tactic meant they overcame Red Bull Racing’s speed advantage, meaning that Verstappen had to push even harder to challenge for pole.
Second-place was the best the Dutchman could manage, with Sergio Pérez securing P3 for the team.
With Verstappen leading the championship from Leclerc, the reigning World Champion was asked after qualifying if Red Bull had considered using the same tactic as their Italian rivals, by sacrificing Pérez.
“No, we were both trying to get the best qualifying result,” Verstappen replied.
“It is a bit different, Carlos is starting in the back so I think it was a smart thing to do and probably if one of us had to start from the back, something similar could have happened as well.”
With Sainz at the back of the grid, Red Bull have a real opportunity to challenge for either a one-two, or at worst a double-podium finish for the team.
Leclerc will have an RB18 in either wing-mirror, allowing the Austrian team to potentially mix their strategies during the race.
Despite the challenge ahead, Leclerc will be aiming to make it back-to-back victories, and continue to reduce the gap to Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship.