Ferrari hint at Leclerc priority despite claiming Sainz can be F1 champion

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Ferrari has subtly suggested Charles Leclerc is their priority despite claiming Carlos Sainz can be a Formula 1 champion.

The decision to choose the Spaniard as Sebastian Vettel's replacement for 2021, rather than, for example, Daniel Ricciardo, immediately raised questions over whether it would guarantee the Monegasque lead driver status going forward.

That has regularly been denied by Ferrari, however, and commenting on Sainz, team boss Mattia Binotto has high expectations.

“I think the first year will be more complicated because he must first understand the car and the team,” he told Marca.

“That is why we have not signed a one-year contract with him, but I know he’s very fast, so he can definitely be world champion.”

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In the very same interview though, the Ferrari boss admits Leclerc is now a key part of their operation and even played a part in choosing Carlos.

“It is important to me that he is involved in these decisions, to have his feedback,” Binotto said.

“Charles is our investment, part of the future of our team, so he was aware, yes.

“We have invested a lot in Charles, yes, many years, from F3, F2 and now F1, where the process continues and we hope that this year will be even stronger than the past and even stronger in the future, that’s why we renewed his contract for so many years [until 2024].

“Charles is a driver that Ferrari can count on for the future trying to develop as much as possible and that he can become the strongest driver in the history of Formula 1.”

Regardless of the status situation, Binotto was confident Leclerc and Sainz would work together to avoid the kind of incidents that occurred with Vettel in the second half of last year.

“I don’t think there will be rough moments between the two, everything will go smoothly, and if there is one, it is my job [to mediate], but you have to be positive,” he explained.

“The first thing is to have two good drivers, team spirit is what is important, making sure that Ferrari comes first. And I think it will be the track itself that dictates who is first and who is second.

“It has always been this way even in the time of Michael Schumacher, who started every year at the same level as his team-mate, but in the third race it was clear who was the first.”