Ferrari Formula 1 team principal Mattia Binotto insists new recruit Charles Leclerc and teammate Sebastian Vettel will be “free to fight” one another in 2019.
Leclerc partners four-time world champion Vettel at Ferrari this season having swapped seats with Kimi Raikkonen over the winter, following the Monegasque’s impressive rookie F1 campaign with Sauber.
During the team’s launch event in Maranello last month, Binotto appeared to suggest the team would prioritise Vettel over Leclerc in the early rounds of the season if the championship situation warranted it, though the Italian has moved to clarify his comments.
“They will be free to fight,” Binotto explained. “We will not ask Charles to go slow or Sebastian to be faster. We need both of them to run to the maximum and try to do their best.
“But certainly if there is any ambiguous situation at the start of the season, Sebastian is the one who has got more experience. He has been with us many years, he has already won championships, so he is our champion.”
Ferrari opted against using team orders during crucial stages of its 2018 title defeat to Mercedes, most notably at its home event at Monza, and Binotto hopes making the Scuderia’s position clear from the start of the new campaign will benefit all parties.
“I think that it’s good as well for Ferrari,” Binotto said.
“When you’ve got your intentions clear from the start, at least you do not make mistakes when you have an ambiguous situation.”
Ferrari has been billed as the favourites heading to Melbourne by rivals Mercedes and Red Bull following a strong fortnight of winter testing, in which Leclerc and Vettel each took it in turns to demonstrate headline-grabbing pace by posting two of the fastest laps of pre-season in the SF90.
“Charles is a good driver, certainly a very fast driver,” Binotto added. “Here in Barcelona he focused himself on understanding the car, working with the new team and engineers.
“I don’t think there was a relative battle on the track between the two -more important for us is to understand the car.
“They’ve done very similar lap times but I think that’s demonstrating Charles is a good and fast driver. I think we knew that since the past. It’s many years [he’s been] at Ferrari. And we’ve seen that in the Sauber last year.
“I don’t think Charles is a surprise in that respect. It’s not the testing at Barcelona that is telling us that was the right choice. It was certainly the right choice but the season will tell us more.”
Foto-credit: Scuderia Ferrari F1