Ferrari says Charles Leclerc and new signing Carlos Sainz will be given equal status at the start of the 2021 Formula 1 season.

Leclerc is entering his third year at the Scuderia, while Sainz is preparing for his first season in red having signed from rivals McLaren.

Although Leclerc was seen as Ferrari’s lead driver alongside four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in 2020, team boss Mattia Binotto insists the pair will be “free” to fight next year.

“There is nothing written in the contract of Charles being the [team] leader,” Binotto said, as quoted by Motorsport.com. “I think that the two will be free to fight on track.

“I think it’s important that they are not damaging themselves, that is clear, but I think that they will have equal opportunity, certainly at the start of the season.”

Binotto is clear Ferrari’s priority at the beginning of the campaign will be to score maximum points, but refused to rule out the use of team orders in order to achieve that target.

“Our top priority, as I said in the past and will remain, is to optimise the team’s points,” Binotto said. “So it may be that in some races, it will be important that the two are somehow helping team decisions or accepting team decisions in order to optimise what is the team’s interest.

“And by doing the team interest I think we are prevailing and we are helping the drivers’ interest as well.

“Later in the season, if there will be a clear advantage of one driver to the other and that one of the two drivers may achieve an objective which is not possible for the other, I think it will be an open discussion between the two.

“Then, let’s see how we can eventually help each other but still to the benefit of the team. But optimising the team points is the first priority.”

Sainz arrived at Maranello for his first day at Ferrari’s factory on Friday, where he had the chance to meet the team and have a seat fitting.

The Spaniard confessed it was day he would never forget, and says he’s “fully motivated” to begin work for 2021 as soon as possible.

“It’s the first time in red, which is obviously, as you can imagine, pretty special,” Sainz said. “It’s a special day for me in general. And it’s probably a day I will never forget.

“I’m fully ready, fully motivated here today already, after leaving the UK yesterday. So totally new, and totally refreshed for this new challenge.

“There will be some Christmas and some holidays to disconnect, and to make sure we recharge the batteries as quick as possible. But you can be sure I’m going to be here pretty early in January to keep pushing, to keep helping this team to move forward as quick as possible in the best direction.

“I cannot wait to be honest. Today I had already my first meetings, my first look around the factory, and it’s something that I will never forget.”