Two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen believes Ferrari must “forget” about team orders if it is to seriously challenge Mercedes this season.

Ferrari has already used team orders in each of the opening three races of 2019 so far, instructing Charles Leclerc to remain behind teammate Sebastian Vettel in Australia and Bahrain - though he ignored the latter call - before telling Leclerc to move aside for Vettel in China.

Leclerc subsequently dropped to fourth place and ultimately ended up losing out on another place to Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, while Vettel was unable to challenge the dominate Mercedes duo up front as the reigning world champions claimed a third successive one-two.

Lewis Hamilton’s 75th Formula 1 victory on Sunday once again demonstrated the strengths of the Mercedes team, strengths which have seen it dominate the sport since 2014,” Hakkinen said in his latest Unibet column.

“A great technical package, superb support from the team and the competitive team spirit which exists between Hamilton and team mate Valtteri Bottas.

“This also helped to show how much work Ferrari still has to do - developing a car quick enough to dominate qualifying, having a clearly defined race strategy and eliminating any potential for conflict between their drivers.

“Charles Leclerc made a better start to the race than Ferrari team mate Sebastian Vettel and should really have been allowed to get on with it and take the fight to Bottas if he could. Instead he was asked to slow down and let Vettel past, which looked like a mistake.”

Vettel is now 31 points behind championship leader Hamilton and just one point clear of Leclerc, while Ferrari already finds itself 57 points adrift of Mercedes after three rounds.

“When you have a team as strong as Mercedes to beat there is no point playing games,” Hakkinen added. “Ferrari needs to stop focussing on themselves and start concentrating on beating the competition.

“In the battle to beat Mercedes no one should care whether it is Leclerc or Vettel who wins the race. I think Leclerc was right to be upset, because the subsequent strategy managed him back into fifth position, behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull.

“Vettel and Leclerc have the potential to be the strongest competition to Mercedes every weekend, but they need to give the drivers the support, flexibility and focus to do that. Forget about team orders, concentrate on the team winning.

“Three races into 2019 and, in spite of Ferrari having the strongest engine and a good package, Mercedes continues to dominate. The mistakes of the other teams are helping them, and we must hope that Ferrari and Red Bull Racing can deliver a more consistent challenge in the races ahead.”

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