SHANGHAI -- Ferrari has confirmed Sebastian Vettel will continue receiving priority treatment, despite his underwhelming start to the season.
The Scuderia's driver policy has come into question in the wake of Charles Leclerc's stunning weekend last time out in Bahrain, where the 21-year-old proved he is more than capable of beating his four-time world championship-winning teammate.
Leclerc claimed a maiden pole position at Sakhir only to fall behind Vettel on the opening lap of the race. He then ignored Ferrari's team orders to stay behind, reclaiming the lead two laps later and would have gone on to win his first race if not for one of his engine's cylinders giving up in the final stages.
Ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix, Formula One's 1,000th championship race, Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto made it clear the team is still putting Vettel ahead of Leclerc in certain situations.
"On the track they are free to fight, but as I said at the start of the season, if there's any 50-50 situation where we need to take a decision, the advantage would have been given to Sebastian, simply because Sebastian has got most of the experience with the team," Binotto said. "He won four championships and certainly for us he's the driver who has the most probability to challenge for the title [in 2019].
"Certainly as a team, we need to give the priority to the team and try to maximize the team's points at the end of the race."
Speaking after practice on Friday, Vettel said "this is a topic which is cooked much hotter than eaten," regarding the news he would remain Ferrari's No. 1.
"There are so many possibilities that can happen in the race," Vettel added. "You saw last weekend that we don't stand on each other's feet when one car is faster than the other. There's not always as much to say as there is to ask."
Leclerc, who obeyed an order at the Australian Grand Prix to hold station behind Vettel, agreed the team is the top priority, but insists he doesn't want to play second fiddle to Vettel for long.
"I understand," Leclerc said. "As I've said in the last three races, overall in a team I think we need a number one and a number two, but I will make sure to change these things as quickly as possible."
Binotto, who took over from Maurizio Arrivabene as Ferrari team principal at the beginning of the season, confirmed things could change in the future if Leclerc finds himself in a healthier championship position. After the first two races of 2019, Leclerc leads Vettel in the standings by four points.
"Something we have agreed with both drivers is, in a few races' time, things may change for whatever reason," Binotto said. "Bad luck or whatever could be the situation [but] we may change our position, no doubt."