LONDON • Ferrari should allow Charles Leclerc to race on level terms with Sebastian Vettel rather than favouring the German, their former driver Gerhard Berger said on Thursday.
The Austrian, who won 10 grands prix for three different teams between 1986 and 1997, told reporters it was too early in the season to favour the four-time world champion over his young Monegasque teammate.
"I think it's an open game at the moment," the 59-year-old said.
"Much as I like Sebastian and, much as I rate him, here is a boy who is capable of winning the championship.
"I don't think it's enough to say, 'Well, this one is experienced, this one is not, so we take the card of the experience'. I think let it run."
Leclerc is a point adrift of third-placed Vettel (37) in the championship after three races, but was quicker in Bahrain. The 21-year-old would have won, from pole position, had he not been slowed by a loss of power with 10 laps to go.
In China last weekend, he was ordered to let the German pass and ended up fifth, with Vettel third.
New Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto made clear in Shanghai that Vettel would have priority in 50-50 situations, as the team's more obvious title contender, but warned that could change.
Berger, a teammate of the late three-time champion Ayrton Senna at McLaren in the early 1990s, said he could not recall ever receiving team orders, but understood they made sense later in the campaign.
"I think it's a question of when it is (acceptable), and is it really giving somebody not even a chance to win the championship? But, if you do it in the first or second race, I don't agree," he added.
Leclerc, a Ferrari protege and Formula Two champion, has replaced Kimi Raikkonen at the Italian team.
Asked whether he felt Leclerc, who had a strong debut with Sauber last year, had been promoted too soon, Berger shook his head.
"Not at all," he said. "In all cases, Ferrari always put the two quickest guys in the car and made sure that the lemon was squeezed to the maximum. It was just the right timing and the right decision."
Berger said he had been impressed by the change since Binotto took over from Maurizio Arrivabene in January.
"I spent half of my Formula One race life in Ferrari," he said. "I didn't feel I could go any more to drink an espresso there because it was all like a strange club where either you are day and night with them or not one of them.
"We always felt part of the Ferrari family and suddenly we didn't feel it any more. And now I was in Bahrain and it changed again. I was there drinking my coffee and everyone was happy."