Charles Leclerc says he ignored a call to stay behind Sebastian Vettel at the Bahrain Grand Prix because he had a “big pace advantage” over his Ferrari Formula 1 teammate.

Having made a poor start from pole position at the second round of the season, Leclerc fought back to overtake Vettel on Lap 6, despite receiving instructions - which were not relayed on the live TV broadcast - to remain behind the German for two laps.

Leclerc had already been told to hold station in fifth place behind Vettel at the Melbourne season-opener after rapidly catching his teammate. The 21-year-old was set to claim a sensational maiden victory in Bahrain until a late engine issue cruelly dropped him to third.

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“I think as I’ve shown 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 and I had the opportunity on the straights,” Leclerc explained.

“I didn’t see myself lifting and staying behind so I just went for the opportunity, it was a safe pass and I went for it.

“I think we had good pace all weekend long and I was very confident with the car, very at ease with the car during the weekend and Seb was a little bit less. So I just focused on my race, I had the opportunity and I went for it.”

Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, Leclerc said his job in 2019 would be to change who Ferrari favours in “50-50” situations, after the Italian squad suggested it would throw its backing behind four-time world champion Vettel if required at the early rounds.

Asked whether he thinks his performance in Bahrain would help turn things around in his favour, Leclerc replied: “As I said we are only at the second race. Anyway, this question is more to be asked to [Ferrari team principal] Mattia [Binotto]. I’m not making the decision on that.”

And Leclerc insisted “nothing has changed” in his relationship with Vettel after outperforming his new teammate in Bahrain.

“From the beginning we both want to beat each other and I think that’s the same in any team and is normal to want to beat the teammate, who has the same car as yours,” he said.

“But on the other hand I think we have found a very good compromise by competing against each other on the track and working together when we are getting out of the car, which is extremely important for the team and the development of the car. So I think we have found the right compromise.”

The Monegasque also played down talk of him being a title contender this year, referencing his differing performances in Australia and Bahrain as an example of just how quickly things can turn around in F1.

“I think things are going very quick in Formula 1,” he added.

“After the first race nobody sees me as a title contender and then after the second race everyone sees me as a title contender.

“So things can go very quickly in F1 and I need to keep the focus on what I am doing in the car and trying to work as hard as possible and try to do the best job inside and outside of the car and then I am pretty sure the results will come.

“Then we will see. We are only at the third race of the season and it is very early on. We will see how we get on in the next few races but hopefully we keep the momentum from Bahrain.”

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