Clarifying reports that at times Sebastian Vettel will be favoured over Charles Leclerc, new Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto is adamant that his two drivers will indeed be allowed to race one another this season, in other words, equal status for both within the team.
This is a clear shift in policy at Maranello where they have tended to favour one driver over the other eg. Michael Schumacher bossed all his teammates, Fernando Alonso was favoured over Felipe Massa and most recently Kimi Raikkonen played second fiddle to Vettel.
Last season, rivals Mercedes drew criticism at times for their handling of Valtteri Bottas, who did not win a single race throughout 2018 and was ordered to allow Lewis Hamilton through on occasion. The Finn was referred to as the world’s best wingman by his boss Toto Wolff.
At the launch of the SF90 last month, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto prompted concern of a similar ‘team orders’ scenario at the start of the new Formula 1 season when he suggested “particular situations” would see the team side with Vettel.
However, at a media briefing during F1 testing in Barcelona this past week, Binotto explained that his directive would not prevent Leclerc from challenging his teammate.
Asked if the two would be allowed to race one another, the team chief said, “I think that it’s good for Ferrari. When you’ve got your intentions clear from the very start, at least you do not make mistakes when you may have a bigger situation.”
“Obviously the two will be free to fight. We will not ask Charles to be slow or Sebastian to be faster. We need both of them to run to the maximum, to try to do their best.”
“But certainly, if there is a big situation at the start of the season, Sebastian is the one who’s got more experience. Many years he’s with us, he’s already won championships, so he’s our champion,” affirmed Binotto.
Reflecting on his drivers’ performances during testing, he added, “Both set very similar lap times. We already knew that Charles is a very fast driver, as we have seen throughout his years with the Ferrari Driver Academy and last season in Formula 1. As for Sebastian, his performance shows him to be the multi-world champion we already know.”
Leclerc is preparing for his first campaign with Ferrari, having debuted in F1 with Sauber last year. He replaces Kimi Raikkonen.
Vettel can be forgiven a sense of deja vu with the current situation, his final season with Red Bull in 2014 he faced off with up-and-coming Daniel Ricciardo who was promoted to the senior team from Toro Rosso.
The Australian humbled the four-time F1 World Champion, who departed to Ferrari at the end of that season where he entrenched himself as number one, with a (mostly) compliant Raikkonen in the sister car.
How Vettel and Leclerc pan out will be a major sideshow to an intriguing F1 season that gets underway with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix weekend starting 15 March in Melbourne.