Ferrari wrong to favour Sebastian Vettel over Charles Leclerc, ex-driver Gerhard Berger says

Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc
Leclerc is one point behind Vettel in the F1 championship

Ferrari are wrong to be using team orders to favour Sebastian Vettel over Charles Leclerc, their former driver Gerhard Berger says.

The Austrian, 59, who had two spells at Ferrari during a career in which he won 10 races, said the team should be allowing the drivers an "open game".

"Much as I like Sebastian and rate him, here is a boy [Leclerc] who is capable of winning the championship," he said.

Ferrari have tried to employ team orders in all three races this season.

They have based their policy on a belief that Vettel, as a four-time champion, is more likely to emerge as their title contender this season than Leclerc, who is in only his second year in F1.

Team boss Mattia Binotto has said that Vettel will be favoured in "50-50 situations" but said at the last race in China that the situation could change.

But Berger, who was team boss of Toro Rosso when Vettel scored his maiden victory at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, said: "I don't think it's enough to say, 'Well this one is experienced, this one is not experienced so we take the card of the experience'. I think let it run."

Leclerc is one point behind Vettel in the championship despite being told to stay behind the German in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix and ordered to hand over third place to him in the last race in China.

Ferrari also told Leclerc to stay behind Vettel for two laps in the second race in Bahrain when the 21-year-old from Monaco was recovering after losing pole position because of a poor start. Leclerc ignored that order and took the lead from Vettel a few corners later.

Leclerc was quicker than Vettel in Bahrain and would have won there had he not suffered an engine problem with 10 laps to go.

Even so, he still beat Vettel, who harmed his own chances by spinning after being passed by Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, who went on to win after inheriting the lead as a result of Leclerc's problem. Leclerc salvaged a third place while Vettel was fifth.

Hamilton is already 29 points clear of Vettel in the championship - more than a clear win - after just three races, in all of which Mercedes have scored one-twos.

Vettel's error in Bahrain marked the fourth time he had spun while racing another car in 10 races.

Berger said: "It's a question of when it is [acceptable], and is it really giving somebody not even a chance to win the championship? And if you do it in the first or second race, I don't agree."

Gerhard Berger
Gerhard Berger contested 96 F1 races for Ferrari between 1987-1989 and 1993-1995

Leclerc, a Ferrari protege, was chosen to replace Kimi Raikkonen at the team after an impressive debut season for the affiliated Sauber team - now called Alfa Romeo - in 2018.

Berger said Leclerc had not been promoted to a big team too soon.

"Not at all," he said. "In all cases Ferrari always put the two quickest guys in the car and made sure that the lemon was squeezed to the maximum.

"For me that's also the right way to do it... I think it was just the right timing and the right decision."

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