Leclerc: It’s up to me to do the job right so I can get ahead

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Media on the Cote de Azure were treated to face time with Ferrari’s budding superstar Charles Leclerc, the Monaco Kid has burst onto the scene in the past couple of years marking himself as one of the new generations of Formula 1 drivers who will be around for a long time.

The interview revolved around his first four races as a Ferrari driver – at 21 years of age Leclerc was the second youngest driver to be handed a seat with the legendary team – he discussed his performances and, of course, the rivalry with four-time F1 World Champion teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Leclerc’s first four races show a tally of three fifth places, one third place, a fastest lap and a pole. Not a bad quarter term report, however it could have been much more had team orders, curious strategy and a costly mistake in Baku not intervened.

The interview, published in Nice-Matin, begins with a question asking Leclerc to sum up his first four races as a Red, to which he replied, “Overall, I am quite satisfied.”

“During the initial weekend in Australia, it was necessary to assimilate a lot of new parameters. Make my mark on this team, on each other.”

“The last race [Baku] didn’t turn out as I wanted. On Saturday, during qualifying, I made a mistake that changed the game for the next day. It can happen, we know that. It’s better to move on.”

“On Sunday, in the race, our performance level was quite good. But now I am focusing on the continuation scheduled for next week in Barcelona.”

Asked what was the bigger blow, the technical issues that plagued him in Bahrain while he was leading by ten seconds or the Baku shunt? He responded, “The problem that slowed me down during the last few laps in Bahrain is part of racing, part of motorsports. It happens. We can’t anticipate it.”

“So, yes, if I had to rewrite history, I would mostly erase the crash in Baku. I think pole position was within our reach. But be careful, I don’t know if I would have hooked it up in the final run. In any case, certainly, we could have had a much better place on the grid. So we would have managed the race differently, with a different strategy.”

What stood out in the aftermath of the shunt during qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was his anguish and humility in accepting the blame for his slight, albeit expensive, error. It got close to the point of self-flagellation.

Asked about his harsh self-appraisal on Saturday, Leclerc explained, “It was a natural, spontaneous reaction. No message to transmit. These words, in fact, come out instantly because I am very demanding on myself. Since my debut in single-seaters, and even since karting, I have wanted to learn from my mistakes so as not to repeat them.”

Inevitably the question of hierarchy within the team is brought up to the victim to two obvious and direct team orders as well as subject to some strange tactics that seriously compromised him to the benefit of his teammate in more than one race.

The young gun versus the veteran ten years his senior is blockbuster stuff, a fact that does not escape the sharp young Monegasque, “When I go through the social networks, I notice that there are a lot of comments about both of us. Somehow I understand this.”

“Hamilton and Bottas have been teammates for a long time, while Ferrari has a young driver. At the moment, many people are closely following my first steps in red. That seems normal to me. Yes, I am constantly asked for my opinion on this subject.”

“I received instructions during the race. I understood some of them… As I often say, I am willing to accept them to a certain extent. For the moment, there is nothing special to add. It’s up to me to do the job right so I can get ahead.”

Asked if the first win this season, before Vettel, might make him the preferred driver for the title battle, he replied, “I don’t know. The first victory will certainly leave its mark in people’s minds. But for me, it’s not an obsession. I don’t think about it all the time. I’m mainly interested in performance, the performance of the car, mine. If we continue to work properly, we will soon be successful.”

After testing in Barcelona earlier this year Ferrari were bullish about their chances while many ‘pundits’ predicted the downfall of Mercedes. Since then the Silver Arrows have scored a record-breaking quartet of one-two finishes in the first four races of this season.

“I think we can improve our pace in the race,” ventured Leclerc. “Under certain track conditions, the car requires very precise, sharp [setup] adjustments to be effective. If you are not exactly in the right window, you are wasting time. But the potential is there!”

“To be honest, the difference is very small: not even half a second per lap, barely two or three tenths. In Bahrain, we were moving faster. In Australia and China, it was them. In Baku, we had a card to play. Unfortunately, it fell overboard on Saturday because of me.”

[Mercedes] have a big break for sure, but there are still seventeen rounds to the championship. A long way to go, right? I believe that anything is possible. So does the team. Fortunately! The car can still improve, as long as we can rapidly find the right solutions.”

Heading to the Spanish Grand Prix next weekend, at the venue where Ferrari reportedly had the edge in February, will be a reality check for all the teams as there will be ways to gauge progress if teams relative to their performances in winter testing.

But as this past double stanza showed testing times counted for little when it mattered, a point Leclerc acknowledged, “Don’t place too much importance on the results of winter tests. In February and March, the mercury did not reach very high. And then Mercedes kept a little bit of it in the bag.”

“That being said, I like Barcelona. Everyone knows it by heart, so it will be hard to tell the difference. The struggle is still looking fierce,” insisted Leclerc ahead of his fifth race in the red of the Scuderia.

On the day Leclerc was busy with  French and Monegasque media hosted by the organsiers. After the press gathering, he got into a red Ferrari Portofino to take TV crews for a lap of the track, before going on to one of his favourite spots, the beach at Larvotto.

There he showed the journalists the terrace at the Ste Devote corner, from which, as a child, he watched the cars go through the first corner after the start line.

It was there while playing with model Formula 1 cars on an imaginary track and watching the real ones driven by Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello, rushing past at high speed, that the first spark was born linking the Ferrari driver to this sport.

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