Charles Leclerc has not been elevated to a ‘number one’ role within Ferrari’s line-up following the departure of Sebastian Vettel, team principal Mattia Binotto has said.

Carlos Sainz Jnr has joined the team from McLaren in place of Vettel for the 2021 F1 season. Binotto confirmed they will begin the season as equals.

“There is nothing written in the contract of Charles being the leader,” Binotto confirmed. “The two will be free to fight on track.

“I think it’s important that they are not damaging themselves, that’s clear. But they will have equal opportunity certainly at the start of the season.”

Leclerc scored almost three-quarters of Ferrari’s 2020 points haul. Binotto expects Sainz’s contribution will help the team perform better in the championship, after they slumped to a 40-year low of sixth in the standings last year.

Charles Leclerc, Mattia Binotto, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, 2020
Sainz joins Leclerc at Ferrari for 2021

“It’s important to have two drivers which are delivering or doing very well in the race in order to do as many points as we can for the constructors title,” he said. “I know that by doing well in the constructors it means that the two drivers are doing well in terms of drivers classification.

“I’m hoping and I’m pretty sure that Carlos will help us in doing better in terms of constructors and overall as a team.”

Binotto has been impressed Sainz’s gains in recent years, particularly with his one-lap pace in qualifying.

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“He is a fast driver, he is very strong. If you look at the 2020 season he made, it was really a very good season. He has been even faster in qualifying which, I think if you look at the past years, he was not so fast in the quali. In 2020 he has been very strong in quali as well.

Drivers, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
2021 F1 drivers and teams

“He is a very strong racer. I think he’s one of those drivers that is finishing races very often and normally in the race he is improving his position compared to the quali.”

Sainz arrives at Ferrari following stints at Toro Rosso, Renault and McLaren. Binotto expects Ferrari will benefit immediately from Sainz’s experience at other teams.

“He’s [had] many seasons now at different teams – different methodologies in terms of working with the engineers, approaching the set-up – so he will certainly bring us a different experience which we are, again, very open to hear, to listen and eventually to learn where possible.

“I’m expecting him to be a great team mate as well for Charles. I think that the two will find each other very well, as well. I’m expecting he’s a hard worker. I’m expecting he is a leader. I’m expecting him to help develop the team and the team become stronger in the future.

“And that’s already in 2021 – I don’t think we need to wait for the 2022, I think 2021 is where already I am pretty sure we will get benefit from him joining Ferrari.”

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