Charles Leclerc thought Max Verstappen retired while leading the Japanese Grand Prix and that had earned a podium.
The Ferrari driver was running in fourth place when he passed the slow Red Bull of Sergio Perez in the closing stages, who re-emerged from his garage to serve a time penalty.
Red Bull elected to fix Perez's car to serve a five-second time penalty, to prevent him from carrying over any harsher penalty for the next race in Qatar.
A perplexed Leclerc thought it was Verstappen when speaking to media, including RacingNews365: "I thought he [Verstappen] wasn't in the race anymore.
"So I thought I was getting a podium and on the last lap I actually looked at the [pit] board and I was P4!"
Ferrari went on the alternate strategy but that left them exposed to the undercut in the final stint, which is ultimately what prevented Leclerc or Carlos Sainz from getting into the top three.
"Max we of course expected him to be strong, we expected Checo also but I don't know what happened to him, and the McLarens too," said Leclerc.
"So there were no surprises, it was all as expected but it was the maximum we can do."
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Leclerc: We could not match McLaren
Teams had fears of high tyre degradation throughout the race, especially considering the track temperature reached 43°C at the start.
Leclerc felt that Ferrari could not match the tyre management of McLaren, a problem they have battled with for most of the season with the SF-23.
"The pace today wasn't as strong as McLaren, they were super strong," explained Leclerc.
"They also had very low tyre management, but I think another weekend like this is good in a way because it confirms exactly what we understood in the last few races.
"Sector one is definitely one of our main weaknesses that should be compared to McLaren, that's where most of the time is lost. We will be working on that for the rest of the season."