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Ferrari will let Charles Leclerc fight with Sebastian Vettel this year

Italian stable will adopt a 'let-them-race' philosophy this year, says team boss

When it came to 50-50 decisions last year, Ferrari often favoured veteran Sebastian Vettel over upstart Charles Leclerc.

But that directive has gone out of the window for this season, team boss Mattia Binotto said yesterday, on the sidelines of the launch of the Italian team's new SF1000 car.

He said: "Last year, we said Seb would have been first driver and Charles second.

"After a year, both have shown they can fight for the best result, so they will be on the same level. Let's say they can both fight for being ahead and that's it. Let them race."

This philosophy cost Ferrari dearly at last year's Brazil Grand Prix, where both drivers crashed into each other.

Later in the week, the pair were summoned to "clear-the-air" talks at Ferrari's Maranello headquarters, where they analysed the accident and reflected on the conclusions.

Leclerc said they have both grown from the experience.

"We both learnt the lesson what happened in Brazil," the 22-year-old Monegasque, who has extended his Ferrari contract to 2024, told the Formula 1 website.

"We are free to race, but we are also teammates. A lot of people on the car, we are a team, and things in Brazil shouldn't happen. I've learnt from it. The margins will probably be a bit bigger."

Vettel insisted that he never felt he was given an advantage by the team last year.

"(It was) not like I had a different car," he said.

"We both had the same car, and the same chance to race well. I never doubted that, I don't think Charles did either... It doesn't change anything. Starting on equal terms, we were last year, we are this year as well."

VETTEL FOR THE LONG TERM

Binotto added that Vettel remained very much part of future planning even if he no longer retained clear No. 1 status.

"Seb is our first choice at the moment," he said.

"Obviously, it is something we are discussing with him and we will continue discussing, but he is certainly our first option."

Asked whether he could therefore rule out Lewis Hamilton, who can expect to become the highest-paid Formula One driver of all time if he stays at Mercedes, Binotto refused to be drawn.

"We are focused on our drivers," he said.

"And we are considering Seb as our option at the moment."

Pressed on whether Hamilton might still be a "fallback option", Binotto said that was not under consideration.

When asked if he wanted to stay at Ferrari for what would be a seventh successive season, Vettel said age was certainly not a factor.

"I feel young enough. You spoke about Lewis, he's even older," he said of the 35-year-old who can equal Ferrari great Michael Schumacher's record seven championships this year and also beat the German's unprecedented 91 wins.

- REUTERS

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