Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc justified his defiance of a team order to remain behind Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain by his clearly superior pace relative to his team mate.
Despite securing his maiden F1 pole in Bahrain, Leclerc lost out to Vettel and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas at the start.
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However, the Monegasque quickly dispatched the Finn before catching up with his team mate.
Leclerc then informed his team over the radio that he was quicker than Vettel, but was told to stay behind for two laps.
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The 21-year-old disregarded the order and overtook Vettel for the lead on the outside of Turn 1.
Queried on the matter in China, Leclerc explained his move while also insisting that he had correctly played the team game in Melbourne when he accepted to remain behind Vettel in the closing stages of the season-opening event.
“I think as I showed in Australia, the interest of the team is extremely important, but in this particular situation I think I had quite a big pace advantage at this moment of the race,” he said.
“I had the opportunity in the straight, and I just didn’t see myself lifting and staying behind, I just went for the opportunity, it was a safe pass and I went for it.”
Vettel, who was given priority status in certain circumstances by Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto before the season kicked off, had no complaints about Leclerc’s behavior.
“I think it was quite clear he was quite a lot faster at that point,” Vettel said.
“I could have passed him back on the next straight, but for me, the way I judged it at that point it was going to lose me more time and him more time.
“The race was very long from that point onwards, something as I said didn’t go exactly my way on that Sunday. So at that point it wasn’t about trying to hold up or destroy Charles’ Sunday back.”
Regardless of how events unfolded in Bahrain, Leclerc insisted that his relationship with his four-time world champion had not changed after Bahrain.
“At the end, from the beginning, we both want to beat each other and I think that’s normal like in every team, you always want to beat your teammate who has the same car as yours,” he said.
“On the other hand I think we have found a very good compromise by competing with each other on the track and working together when we are getting out of the car, which is extremely important for the team and for the development of the car.
“So, yeah, I think we found the right compromise but nothing has changed.”
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