Ferrari's new team principal Mattia Binotto has made a "statement" by admitting that Sebastian Vettel may be prioritised over new teammate Charles Leclerc in the early part of 2019 in the Scuderia's plans, according to rival boss at Mercedes Toto Wolff.
Leclerc has been tipped to push Vettel all the way in 2019, but the Monegasque may begin the season in support to his four-time world champion teammate.
Binotto said earlier this week: "I think it's normal, especially early in the season, that if there are particular situations our priority will be Sebastian."
Vettel fell short of Lewis Hamilton in last season's title fight amid errors made on the track and Ferrari pit-wall and Wolff is clear that the challenge will be laid down once again in 2019.
"I think first of all Mattia has a tremendous task in front of him and I believe that he wants to do it his own way," Wolff said.
Toto Wolff says of Ferrari’s intent to prioritise Vettel in the early races this season - “Teamorders are a controversial subject, so coming out with that at the start of the season is a statement”. #F1Testing — Rob Watts (@robwattsf1) February 18, 2019
"Team orders always a very controversial topic. We've discussed it last year within Mercedes or Ferrari and coming out at the beginning of season saying that is a statement."
Binotto replaced Maurizio Arrivabene as Ferrari team principal after a reported power struggle between the pair and Wolff expects the new man in the Maranello hot seat will be a formidable foe.
"I've known Mattia for quite a long time, for many years first as engine boss then as technical director, now he's stepped up to team principal.
"I respect him. He's a very intelligent man and knows how to manoeuvre his way through paddock and he will be a force to be reckoned with."