Vettel, Ferrari not surprised by Leclerc’s rise

The outside world might be surprised by Charles Leclerc’s performances this season, but Sebastian Vettel says Ferrari knew he had the potential.

Leclerc has taken to life at the Scuderia like a duck to water as he has often out-performed his more established team-mate Vettel during his debut season with the Italian outfit.

The Monegasque driver won his maiden F1 race at the Belgian Grand Prix and then followed it up with Ferrari’s first win on home soil at Monza since 2009.

The back-to-back wins have seen him move ahead of Vettel in the Drivers’ standings and put the German under a bit more pressure.

Vettel, though, says Leclerc’s potential was clear to see since his academy days.

“I think it is positive that he has surprised people outside but inside he has been with the Ferrari driver academy for a while,” he is quoted as saying by

“It was clear to see that he had a lot of potential and he had a very strong rookie season with Alfa so I think it is good to see that he was right on the pace straightaway.

“From a team point of view I think it is important that we work together not against each other, that seems to work so that is important otherwise it would be a waste of energy. Those are key.

“It was a big weekend for him [in Belgium] even though it was overshadowed by the circumstances and the passing of Anthoine [Hubert].”

Leclerc’s victories at Spa and Monza have helped Ferrari to open a handy gap between themselves and third-placed Red Bull in the standings, but both teams are still well adrift of first-placed Mercedes.

For now, Vettel just wants both drivers to “push in the right direction” with the hope that “one day” they can battle it out for top honours.

“We are trying to work together to push the team as our car is not where we want it to be,” he said. “We don’t have the car or ability to win every race so that is our objective so it serves both of us if we push in the right direction.

“I believe one day we will have that car and then we can fight it out.”

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‘Verstappen/Leclerc pairing would create difficulties’

Although his father says Max Verstappen is on the market in 2021, Ferrari will not attempt to sign him as Charles Leclerc’s team-mate as Mattia Binotto says it would create “difficulties”.

Verstappen and Leclerc are two of Formula 1’s hottest properties at the moment, the only drivers aside from the Mercedes pairing to have won races this year, two apiece.

But while Leclerc is locked down in a multi-year deal with Ferrari, Verstappen has just one, 2020, to go on his current Red Bull contract.

Already his father, Jos, has stated that everything is open for 2021.

“The most important thing is that we get a car with which Max can compete for the title,” he recently told Ziggo Sport.

It is thought that Mercedes are the front-runners for his signature given Jos’ close relationship with Merc motorsport boss Toto Wolff.

And while most teams would be delighted to sign Verstappen, Ferrari have already ruled it out saying it would be one too many number ‘1’ drivers.

“I came up at the time of Michael Schumacher, when Rubens Barrichello or Felipe Massa was next to him,” reports him as having told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I think we should have a great first driver and another driver who can win races and score points. Something like Hamilton and Bottas.

“Two drivers together like Max and Charles creates difficulties for the management of the team.”

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Leclerc calls on Ferrari to stay ‘realistic’

Charles Leclerc believes Ferrari must remain realistic about their chances in 2019 with the Singapore GP coming up.

Leclerc claimed his first victory in Formula 1 at the Belgian Grand Prix before following that up with another win the week after at Ferrari’s home race – Monza.

However, those tracks were always expected to favour Ferrari with their blistering straight-line speed, and Leclerc warns that the team must remain realistic with the upcoming Singapore GP not expected to suit the low-downforce SF90.

“We need to stay realistic. I think we expected that Spa and Monza would be very good races for our car but we also know that the next few races will be a lot more difficult for our car,” Leclerc is quoted by

“So, we need to be realistic and, yeah, it’s not going to be easy. I think especially Singapore.

“I think it will be a nice surprise if we are better than what we expect – but what we expect – but we expect to struggle there.”

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Berger warns Vettel: You can never rely on Leclerc

Angered by Charles Leclerc not giving him a tow in qualifying for the Italian GP, Gerhard Berger has warned Sebastian Vettel to “never” rely on his team-mate.

Heading into qualifying at Ferrari’s home race, the deal with the Scuderia team-mates was for Vettel to give Leclerc a tow in the first run of Q3 and then for the Monégasque driver to return the favour.

Vettel did his part, putting Leclerc on provisional pole. Leclerc didn’t do his, leaving Vettel P4 on the Monza grid.

And while the team-mates have reportedly cleared the air, former F1 driver Berger has warned Vettel not to expect favours of any sort from his Ferrari team-mate.

“I have to say it clearly: there is no team play at this level in Formula 1,” the Austrian told the Kolner Express.

“Everyone is on their own and has to see that he gets his own nose in front.

“I do not know if he fooled Vettel, but it has long been clear that Leclerc has an absolute killer instinct and is headed in the direction of the World title.

“That was not so surprising for me.

“For me, it was rather incomprehensible why Sebastian waited so long and did not go alone hunting for pole.

“Without the slipstream, he might not have cracked Leclerc’s time but he might have finished second or third.

“He can never rely on Leclerc.”

Asked if Vettel had been naive to trust his team-mate, Berger replied: “Let’s not call it naive, but he has too much good faith.

“And good faith has little place in top-level sport, where the World Championship is concerned.”

Leclerc went onto win the Italian GP, breaking Ferrari’s nine-year duck, while a spin and a penalty left Vettel down in 13th place.

This has left many wondering if Leclerc is now Ferrari’s official number ‘1’ driver.

Put to Berger, he replied: “Ferrari will always back the one who has the best opportunities and that is currently the Charles because Sebastian did not do a great job.

“To spin and then hit Lance Stroll in front of you, you can not expect from a four-time World Champion.

“He has to keep cool and race-by-race get his nose back to the front.”

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Mercedes: Leclerc ‘knew where we were weak’

Charles Leclerc figured out Mercedes through his battle with Lewis Hamilton says the team’s motorsport strategy director James Vowles.

The Ferrari driver fended off the attack of Lewis Hamilton at Monza after both had made their pit stops, while in the later stages he had to contend with Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Mercedes were unable to find a way to past Leclerc as he went on to make it back-to-back wins for himself, and Vowles believes that the 21-year-old’s battle with Hamilton meant he knew “where we were weak” by the time Bottas was in a position to challenge.

“By the time Valtteri caught up to the back of Leclerc, he had already been used to it,” Vowles said in Mercedes’ PurePitWall debrief of the Italian GP.

“He knew where we were strong and where we were weak and he defended against Lewis for 20 to 30 laps of the race.

“The reality was that by the time Valtteri had caught back up, not only had his tyres been used a little bit, but more so Leclerc knew exactly where to defend and how to defend.

“The same problem that Lewis had still remained, we weren’t quite, with all the engine modes enabled, fast enough in a straight line in order to make the overtake happen, but more so you now had an experienced Leclerc in front of you who knew how to defend.”

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Bottas applauds ‘very tough’ Leclerc

Valtteri Bottas believes Charles Leclerc is a “very tough” racer and is impressed with him in his debut Ferrari season.

Leclerc held off Bottas and Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to win the Italian Grand Prix and wasn’t afraid to get his elbows out in defence, even being shown a black and white warning flag for moving under braking.

But Bottas says that he likes that “tough” side of Leclerc and believes that’s how a Ferrari driver should be.

“I heard some talk in the press conference but I have no clue what happened [between Leclerc and Hamilton],” he is quoted by

“But for sure he’s racing hard. When you’re in the lead there’s no way you want to give it up.

“For a young guy he is a very tough racer, which is good to see.

“As you should [be] when you’re a Ferrari driver.”

Hamilton claimed to be thinking about the Championship in his battle with Leclerc and would have acted differently should a sixth Drivers’ Championship not have been on his mind, but Bottas had no other motives in his pursuit of the Monegasque driver at Monza.

“I wasn’t thinking about that [the Championship],” said Bottas.

“I was just thinking about the best possible result I could get.

“I knew about halfway through the race the win was possible; how things were going and the pace I had on the medium I thought there will be opportunities at the end of the race.

“It was always the plan for me to go long in the first stint and have opportunities later on.

“We had those but we couldn’t make it really happen.

“The only thing in my mind was to maximise this race and go for the win.

“There’s nothing I would have done different in any other case.”

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Brundle: Leclerc ‘lucky’ not to get penalty

Martin Brundle says Charles Leclerc “was lucky” not to get a five-second penalty for his “robust” defending against Lewis Hamilton at the Italian Grand Prix.

Ferrari tasted success at Monza for the first time since 2010 as Leclerc won from pole, but some eyebrows were raised over some of the defensive moves he pulled off against Hamilton.

He squeezed the Mercedes driver off the track at one point, but no penalty was given as race stewards opted to give him a warning with the black-and-white flag for bad sportsmanship.

FIA race director Michael Masi later revealed the reasoning behind the decision, but Brundle feels he should’ve received a time penalty.

“First off it was Lewis Hamilton applying all the pressure and looking like the potentially faster combo,” he wrote in his Sky Sports F1 column.

“On a number of occasions Leclerc was very robust in defending, pushing the limits of several regulations. He was lucky to get a driving-standards warning flag rather than a five-second penalty when crowding Hamilton into the braking area of the second chicane, having already been dancing around through the previous flat-out Curva Grande.

“Max Verstappen took a penalty last year in very similar circumstances in combat with Valtteri Bottas, and at other times or with different stewards Leclerc could have been handed the same pain.

“It was tough to call, and I’m very supportive of this ‘let them race’ philosophy so long as it’s consistent and the drivers don’t take liberties and spoil it all.”

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