The Monegasque ran third for most of the race and leapfrogged Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas when the leaders stopped for fresh intermediate tyres and Ferrari elected to stay out on old inters in a bold gamble to try and claim an unlikely victory.
But Leclerc’s pace dramatically dropped off in the closing stages, enabling Bottas to pick his way past the Ferrari driver to reclaim the lead, before he decided to abandon the plan and pit for new inters.
Leclerc re-emerged in third but lost the final spot on the podium to Sergio Perez as he struggled through the initial graining phase on the new inters and ultimately had to settle with fourth at the flag.
“I had all the info I needed at that time, and once Valtteri pitted, I was asking quite a lot on the radio, ‘okay what are the lap times on the new inters?’ Leclerc said.
“For the first five/six laps we were actually more or less in line with the pace. So for me it was clear that it was not just rolling the dice.
“We were all quite confident with that choice. But it was a bit of a strange race with the new inters for six or seven laps. They had like a graining phase, and once you went through the graining phase then you were finding a lot of pace again.
“That’s basically exactly what happened. So no regrets on my side.”
And Leclerc doubts he would have been able to finish higher than P4 had he successfully managed to complete an unprecedented no-stop strategy.
“It would have been very, very difficult without stopping to be honest,” he said. “The rear tyres were very difficult to handle in the last four laps before my pit stop, and that’s why we did the pit stop actually.
“I struggled a lot with rear locking and that pushed me to do some mistakes. I don’t think [it could have been] better than where we finished with the pitstop.”
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said the call was based on information gathered from Carlos Sainz’s tyres when the Spaniard pitted earlier in the race.
“Obviously we had the pit stop done with Carlos, and we knew how much rubber was left on his tyres at that moment,” he explained. “Knowing that data, we believed that we could have finished the race, at least in terms of being safe in that respect.
“So we knew that in terms of safety, all the conditions were there. Then it was a matter of performance. As Charles said, at the time when we stayed out, the performance was okay. But then the track changed, it was drier, and we had to come in.”