Ferrari opted to keep the Monegasque out on his medium tyres until lap 23 of 56, when he made his sole pitstop for hard tyres. Leclerc was the only finisher to run a one-stop strategy.
But this led to his pace dropping off significantly in the closing laps to leave the team to ask Leclerc to fall behind team-mate Carlos Sainz, who eventually finished 10 seconds ahead. He kept slipping back to sixth.
But Leclerc, along with Hamilton, was disqualified post-race for excessive car plank wear.
Leclerc, speaking before his disqualification was announced, reckoned Ferrari had “something wrong in our numbers”.
He said: “Straight away from the beginning of the race when we thought the one-stop and the two-stops were extremely close together.
“After 12, 13 laps, I saw the numbers on the dash. They were pretty good for the one-stop, at least in terms of degradation.
“I wasn't losing that much time laps after laps. And considering our numbers, this was the right thing to do.
“So, I went for the one stop and unfortunately this was definitely the wrong thing to do.
“And for some reason, there was something wrong in our numbers today, because we were far off the ideal race strategy.”
Asked why it had fallen apart, Leclerc reckoned “there was something off”. He continued: “To be honest, I don't have the answer yet because it was quite far off the two-stops.
“We finished behind Carlos by 10 seconds, which is a good comparison, because we've got both the same car.
“There was something off.”
But Leclerc lost sixth place as he was disqualified for a non-compliant plank following random post-race checks. The planks on the cars of race winner Verstappen and Norris were also assessed and passed scrutineering.
The sprint race format, which imposes parc ferme regulations after one practice session, heavily restricts teams in their ability to perfect suspension settings and ride heights.
This comes amid driver complaints over the Circuit of The Americas being significantly bumpier than last year despite Turns 12 and 14-16 having been resurfaced.