Charles Leclerc says he expects to play a “smart” team game with new Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz during the 2021 Formula 1 season. 

Amid Ferrari’s bid to recover from its worst F1 season in 40 years, the Italian outfit has captured the signature of Sainz from McLaren to partner Leclerc this year as four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel’s replacement. 

Leclerc and Vettel experienced several flashpoints during their two-year spell together as teammates after the Monegasque quickly asserted himself within the team following his promotion from Sauber after just one season in F1. 

But Leclerc stressed that despite their own ambitions, both he and Sainz are aware that a harmonious relationship will be key to helping Ferrari turn around its fortunes off the back of a lacklustre 2020 season. 

“I think it’s a compromise that we need to find ourselves,” Leclerc said. “It’s very clear in our mind that we need to push for the team and this is always the case anyway. 

“Carlos wants to beat me and I want to beat him too, and then once we are on track we will try to be careful whenever we fight each other, always trying to have the vision of what we can do better for the team.

“I think what is most important is that we manage to do the separation of what happens on and off track and every time we are out of the car we need to work together to try to push the car forward for the development and the same way also in the car, to some extent, with the strategy, etc. 

“That is the fine line that every teammate needs to find. Carlos is very competitive, but as he made clear also earlier, he is also here for the benefit of the team, as am I. So we will have to play it smart on that one.” 

Echoing Leclerc’s comments, Sainz said the pair had already struck up a “good relationship” since his arrival at Maranello and insisted he could see no reason for issues to arise down the line. 

“There is always a balance to find between wanting to be competitive with your reference as a teammate but at the same time, especially at the moment we are going through right now at Ferrari, there is one thing that is of paramount importance and that is the team,” the Spaniard explained. 

“I think we are both going to push flat out to make sure we can help this team to move forward. We have already started on the right foot, we are getting on well and we are having a good relationship. 

“As Charles said, we are spending a lot of time here in Maranello together in January and February, so I am encouraged about the relationship and the way we can move forward, and how we can help the team move forward. 

“Personally, I have never had any issues with teammates, so I don’t know why I should have one with Charles.”

Meanwhile, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto made it clear that the team must always come first, revealing that discussions had already taken place between the trio to outline how they will approach the upcoming season. 

“The team matters and there is not a single individual that counts more than the team itself,” Binotto said. “That is something that we are all aware of and is somehow something that is shared. 

“It is something that we discussed altogether, to become world champion first we need to beat the other cars and the other drivers and only by the time that we have the fastest car and drivers on track would we somehow fight between them. 

“I think it is being focused on trying to progress as a team, and the team is including as well the drivers - I think that it comes through transparency, trust and I think the relationship is going very well. 

“I think we have had, in the last weeks, a lot of chat and a lot of discussions and I think understanding each other is important, but I am very confident in that. I am very confident because the way we started is proving that we are very hopeful for the future.” 

Ferrari will become the final team to launch its 2021 F1 car when it presents its SF21 this afternoon, two days before the start of pre-season testing in Bahrain