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Leclerc: Obeying team orders will depend on situation

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- As team orders continue to dictate the narrative at Ferrari this year, Charles Leclerc has hinted that he may not play along in all situations.

Ferrari has used team orders at all three of the opening races this year in an attempt to favour Leclerc's teammate Sebastian Vettel. Ever since the Italian team launched its car in February, team boss Mattia Binotto has been clear that he will favour Vettel -- a four-time world champion -- in 50/50 situations this year.

So far Ferrari has stuck to that strategy, with Leclerc being told to hold position behind Vettel in Australia, give his teammate two laps of breathing space before attempting an overtake in Bahrain and to cede position to Vettel early in the race in China. Leclerc did as he was told in Australia and China, but pulled off an overtaking move on Vettel in Bahrain within a lap of the order being issued.

Asked if he would continue to obey team orders going forward, Leclerc said: "Depending on the situation.

"Obviously there will always be team orders in Formula One. But, yeah, it depends on the situation. In some situations I will."

Leclerc was also asked if he felt he could beat Vettel to the title this year and whether Ferrari would allow him to do so.

"I don't know -- it's very early in the season still -- I don't know, it's a tricky question," he said before a long pause.

"I believe there is the potential to do so but then from the potential to actually doing it, I need to do a lot of work and put all the things together. But, yeah, we'll see."

Although he appeared uncomfortable with the line of questioning, Leclerc remained diplomatic and made clear that he still understood his place in the Ferrari hierarchy.

"He is taking the decision on the pitwall," he said when asked if he had sought reassurances from Binotto about future calls. "At the end they have a lot more data on the pit wall than I do in the car. We'll see in the future."

Vettel added that all the team orders so far were made with the intention of maximising the team's overall result, even if some have claimed they didn't play out like that.

"I think it's normal that you try to do everything to perform well and I think everybody else is on the same page. Now obviously I understand that there's a lot of... that people are talking about the decisions we've made here and there but you know, it will be impossible to know now where we will be in a couple of months' time or in half a year's time, but yeah the answer I think only time will be able to tell.

"So we'll see, but certainly from the team's point of view we try to maximise the points and I think, you know, I felt I was faster in China in the opening stint, unfortunately we couldn't chase down the Mercedes, for both of us, and they grabbed the win and the 1-2, but that's been the target, the ambition and I'm sure that if we continue working hard we will get there.

"I think again, from the outside, and after the race, it's always easier than when you're in the race. After the race you can have possibly the whole paddock being able to sit on the pitwall during the race and I don't see that much courage to jump and make that decision."