Leclerc prepared to follow team orders, but not always
Baku - Charles Leclerc hinted at his inner rebel on Thursday when he said he was prepared to accept Ferrari team orders that favoured Sebastian Vettel, but only in certain situations.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix on one of his favourite circuits, the Baku street track, the 21-year-old Monegasque said he recognised the existence of team orders, but was wary of committing to total obedience.
"Of course, there will always be team orders in Formula One,” he said. “But it depends on the situation whether I accept them. In some situations, I will…”
He left the rest of his reply unfinished, only later adding a little clarity to his enigmatic responses when he talked of the bigger responsibilities that team chief Mattia Binotti has to carry for Ferrari.
“He has to make decisions from the pit wall,” he said. “And, at the end of the ride, they are faced with a lot more drama than I am in the car.”
Leclerc was running third in China two weeks ago when he was asked to let Vettel pass him as Ferrari tried to catch and battle with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Vettel went by and was then unable to stop Hamilton winning ahead of Bottas as Mercedes scored their third one-two of the season.
Vettel finished third and Leclerc - who was denied victory in Bahrain by engine problems – fell to fifth behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
He said he knew Vettel would gain preference in 50-50 calls between them, but remained adamant that he would prove himself.
"I’ve got a lot of things to prove and now it’s just up to me to do the best job possible in the car to prove to the team what I’m capable of…
"I need to continue doing what I’m doing, trying to improve myself and hopefully it will change soon."
Asked if he could beat Vettel in the title race, he said: “I believe there is the potential to do so, but then from that potential to actually doing it - I need to do a lot of work and put all the things together.”
Earlier, five-time champion Hamilton said he recognised some of his own early frustrations in F1 in Leclerc’s situation and described his own fight to prove himself.
The five-time world champion recalled his own debut season in 2007, when he partnered two-time champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren. Like Leclerc, he wanted to win from the outset.
"For sure, I think he's a bit younger than I was by a year or two, but absolutely I can see it.
"I remember wanting to get to F1 as soon as possible and then, when I got there, I wanted to win as soon as possible and I wanted to beat the champion that I was racing against.
"So, it's very, very similar. I see much of myself in Charles. He's doing a great job so far with really high expectations at a huge team like Ferrari, but he's driving so well. So, he just has to keep doing what he's doing... It will come to him."