SHANGHAI, China — Ferrari has confirmed Sebastian Vettel will continue receiving priority treatment, despite his underwhelming start to the season.
The Scuderia’s driver policy has come into question in the wake of Leclerc’s stunning weekend last time out in Bahrain, where the 21-year-old proved he is more than capable of beating his four-time world championship winning teammate.
Leclerc claimed a maiden pole position at Sakhir only to fall behind Vettel on the opening lap of the race. He then ignored Ferrari’s team orders to stay behind, reclaiming the lead two laps later and would have gone on to win his first race if not for one of his engine’s cylinders giving up in the final stages.
Ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix, Formula One’s 1,000th championship race, Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto made it clear the team is still putting Vettel ahead of Leclerc in certain situations.
“On the track they are free to fight, but as I said at the start of the season, if there’s any 50-50 situation where we need to take a decision, the advantage would have been given to Sebastian, simply because Sebastian has got most of the experience with the team,” Binotto said. “He won four championships and certainly for us he’s the driver who has the most probability to challenge for the title [in 2019].
“Certainly as a team, we need to give the priority to the team and try to maximize the team’s points at the end of the race.”
Leclerc, who obeyed an order at the Australian Grand Prix to hold station behind Vettel, agreed the team is the number one priority during Thursday’s media day, but insisted he will not back off if he finds himself with a pace advantage on track.
“As I showed in Australia, the interests of the team is extremely important,” Leclerc said. “But in this particular situation (Bahrain), I had quite a big pace advantage at this moment and I had the opportunity on the straight. I just didn’t see myself lifting and staying behind.”
Binotto, who took over from Maurizio Arrivabene as Ferrari team principal at the beginning of the season, also confirmed things could change in the future if Leclerc finds himself in a healthier championship position. After the first two races of 2019, Leclerc leads Vettel in the championship standings by four points.
“Something we have agreed with both drivers is, in a few races’ time, things may change for whatever reason,” Binotto said. “Bad luck or whatever could be the situation [but] we may change our position, no doubt.”