The Monegasque and his team-mate were locked in a tight fight with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly throughout the Mexico City race as they battled for fourth spot.
A strategy offset between the two Ferrari drivers, with Sainz having extended his opening stint to have fresher hards at the end, had brought him on to the back of Leclerc and with a shot of going after Gasly.
Ferrari issued a radio instruction to Leclerc to let Sainz through, but did not appear to get an immediate response from him.
Shortly after, Sainz suggested that Leclerc was pushing hard, and locking up, simply to stay ahead.
However, Leclerc did eventually give way to see what Sainz could do – but with the Spaniard failing in his quest to overhaul the AlphaTauri ahead, he eventually gave back the position before the chequered flag.
While Leclerc’s delay in letting Sainz through suggested he was not too happy about the situation, he actually says that giving up the place was far from simple because of the influence of backmarkers.
“I was okay with it,” explained Leclerc about the team orders call. “Basically, I had a very tough time with the hard tyres in the first laps with the things I was complaining on the radio.
“As soon as I was asked to let him by, I had the blue flag so I had to go through [George] Russell and [Lance] Stroll, so the two cars that had blue flags in front of me.
“We waited one lap and actually on that lap the fronts cleared, and I gained one second in one lap.
“Then the team told me: standby don’t give the position back. Then two laps later they asked me to give it back, and I gave it.”
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Sainz thinks that the delay in Leclerc letting him through did cost some time.
Asked if he felt that could have made the difference in his fight with Gasly, Sainz said: “It’s a tricky question.
“Right when I caught Charles he was also lapping a Williams and an Aston, so the situation gets a bit trickier and a bit messy.
“Obviously he’s being told to let me by but, at the same time, he’s trying to clear the blue flags.
“I’m not going to lie, I lost two or three seconds of race time there that, as a team, we need to see how we can maybe improve it the next time.
“But it is very tricky. I mean, position swaps are probably the most tricky bit in F1 and this time we got it fairly right.
“So yes, I lost a bit of time there but we will try to see what we could have done different and learn for the next one.”
But despite the potential for the swap having been done earlier, Sainz said the afternoon was a valuable lesson for everyone at Ferrari on team work.
“What is important is that we get confident as a team to do it and respect the team orders,” he added.
“It will happen later this season or in the following years to come that that we might be in a similar situation. So as team-mates and as a whole team, we need to get comfortable at the switching positions at some tracks, like we’ve done in other races. I think as a team, we executed it nicely.”