Leclerc started on medium compound tires at the Hungaroring and spent the first stint in third, only to jump teammate Carlos Sainz into second by getting the overcut on the first lap of pit stops.
With a five-lap tire delta, Leclerc managed to catch race leader George Russell and pass him for the lead before opening a three-second lead at the front of the field.
But when Ferrari brought Leclerc to the pits at the end of lap 39, the team decided to fit hard tires that struggled to warm up in the cold conditions.
It led to Leclerc being quickly overtaken by title rival Max Verstappen, who had started 10th, before losing more and more time as the stint went on. He was finally brought in just 15 laps later for a third stop before finally finishing sixth.
Ferrari F1 boss Mattia Binotto revealed that the team’s simulations said that while it would be difficult to warm up early, they were expected to be the better tire for the final stint.
“When we mounted the hard ones, our simulation was that it could have been some tough warm-up laps,” explained Binotto.
“It would have been 10-11 laps slower to the medium, and then it would have come back and been faster than the end of the stint, and it was a 30 lap stint.
“We tried to protect the position on Max. It would certainly have been too long for the soft tyres. Yes, it would have been difficult in the beginning of the stint, but it would have come back towards the end.”
Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75
Photo By: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Leclerc said after the race that he wanted to keep the medium tires as long as possible, only to be called it for the hards. He was put on softs at his third stop, but was unable to overtake the cars in front of him.
Sixth place means Leclerc is now 80 points behind Verstappen at the top of the drivers’ championship en route to the summer break.
A number of drivers struggled with the hard tires due to the unusually cool conditions during the race, including Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, who both lost time during the early part of their stints.
Asked if Ferrari had seen what Alpine’s hard tire struggles with and considered not getting into the pits to cover Verstappen, Binotto replied: “Yeah, we discussed it, so it’s not [the strategy] is all written in stone.
“During the race and looking at what’s going on, we also looked at what happened to the other hard tyres.
“We made all the trade-offs, we discussed what would have been best and that’s the choice we made. It certainly wasn’t the right one today.”
But Binotto stressed that the bigger problem for Ferrari on Sunday was the car’s lack of speed compared to what he saw on Friday, when Leclerc had set the fastest time and impressed on the long runs.
“It is important to say that we believe that the car did not work as expected,” said Binotto.
“We didn’t have the speed we hoped for looking back on Friday, and the pace we had in the race conditions on Friday. So today was definitely different conditions, a lot cooler.
“But overall the speed wasn’t big enough today, and whatever tires we used, I don’t think we were as good as we were looking for.”