Not for the first time, and probably not for the last time, Ferrari issued team orders in China, with Charles Leclerc instructed to transfer to Sebastian Vettel during the Chinese Grand Prix. It was the third race in succession that Scuderia used the tactic – and rival team boss Mercedes, Toto Wolff, believes the approach has the potential to open "a can of worms" …
Ferrari admitted that in 50-50 situations, four-time world champion Vettel will take priority over Leclerc. The Monegasque was asked to give up the third, which he had taken from Vettel at the start, so that the German – who had told the team that he was faster – could try to keep pace with the silver arrows.
READ MORE: Ferrari says Vettel still has priority over Leclerc in 50-50 situations
Vettel was unable to do so and was, in fact, slower when he got ahead. Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto started to defend the exchange, which led Vettel to third and Leclerc fell to fifth after being vulnerable to the relegation of Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
As the exchange of Ferrari's Chinese Grand Prix driver happened
When asked about the use of Ferrari team orders in China, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said: "This is a complicated situation, of course, because you would like to have the fastest car hunting your opponents. Sebastian said he had the fastest car at that stage, so they reversed the order. I can understand this somehow.
"However, once you start doing these things, it becomes very complicated because you begin to set a precedent and you are opening a can of worms, and then you may have to call every race that the car is behind I'd say "I can go faster".
READ MORE: "We had to do what we could" – Ferrari explains why they traded Leclerc and Vettel in China
Mercedes is not a stranger in the use of team orders, and Silver Arrows has asked class leader Valtteri Bottas to move to championship leader Lewis Hamilton in Russia last year. That meant Hamilton had seven points in his title fight with Vettel, who was reaching the final stages.
"It's not an easy situation," Wolff said. "We were there with Nico [Rosberg] and Lewis, and we've been there with Valtteri and Lewis too … So it's not just a Ferrari problem. Each team has this problem if you have two alpha drivers. "
Mercedes's trio of doubles so far in 2019, compared to Ferrari's two third places and four points, means they lead the constructors' championship with 130 points, 57 more than Ferrari with 18 races ahead.