Ferrari's new team principal Mattia has made it clear that Charles Leclerc will not be restricted when it comes to battling with teammate Sebastian Vettel. He insisted that the pair are "free to fight", which is slightly conflicting with a previous statement by the team.
Even before testing began, Ferrari had made it clear that they would prioritise Vettel over Leclerc if a situation arose. This was taken as a sign that Leclerc would take over from Raikkonen in more ways than one by becoming support to Vettel.
“Obviously the two will be free to fight,” Binotto said. “We will not ask Charles to go slow. Or Sebastian to be faster [than him]. 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.”
However, Binotto sees this stance as an advantage for the Scuderia, who was criticised for not being decisive in giving the German driver "priority" status when he needed it most in the fight against Hamilton and Mercedes.
“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.”
When asked about the pace that Leclerc has shown over the past two weeks, he replied: “Charles is a good driver, certainly a very fast driver,” Binotto said. “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 [Leclerc and Vettel]. More important for us [is] to understand the car. They’ve done very similar lap times, true, 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. We’ve seen that in the Sauber last year [as well].
“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.”
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing