Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto insists Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc are free to fight each other from the start of the season, despite giving Vettel priority status if it becomes required by his championship situation.

Binotto has previously stated Vettel will be the team’s lead driver during the early part of the season due to his experience with the team, while Leclerc will only be in his second season in Formula 1. The former technical director, who replaced Maurizio Arrivabene in January, says both drivers can benefit from that understanding, but insists it’s only an approach that will be applied if necessary, and that the drivers will be free to race otherwise.

“I think that it’s good for Ferrari,” Binotto said. “When your intentions are clear from the very start, at least you do not make mistakes when you have an ambiguous situation.

“Obviously the two will be free to fight. We will not ask Charles to be slow or Sebastian to be fast. Both of them need to run to the maximum and try to do their best, but certainly if there is any ambitious situation at the start of the season, Sebastian is the one that has more experience, meaning that with us, also he has won championships, so he’s our champion.”

Although Leclerc is yet to start a race for Ferrari, Binotto said that the signs in pre-season testing reinforce expectations that the 21-year-old will be close to Vettel.

“Charles is a good driver,” he said. “Certainly a very fast driver. I think that in Barcelona he focused on himself, understanding the car, working with a new team, new engineers, and I don’t think there was a battle on the track between the two. So, more important for us to understand the car. They’ve done very similar lap times. I think that proves that Charles is certainly a fast driver.

“We knew it since the past. It’s now many years he’s [been] with Ferrari, we’ve seen him last year with the Alfa Romeo/Sauber, so nothing with Charles is a surprise in that respect. So it’s not the testing in Barcelona that is telling us that, that was the right choice. It was certainly the right choice, but the season will tell us a bit more.”