Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2018

Leclerc a cool head in F1's red-hot seat

All eyes are on Sauber's Charles Leclerc as he speaks to the media yesterday. He will be replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next year.
All eyes are on Sauber's Charles Leclerc as he speaks to the media yesterday. He will be replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next year.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Sauber rookie shrugs off pressure ahead of Ferrari move, will focus on delivering results

He sat coolly on his chair as a posse of about 50 journalists surrounded him on the second-storey balcony of Sauber's motor home at the Marina Bay Street Circuit last night.

Charles Leclerc is no stranger to such scrutiny and pressure, having outperformed his team-mate Marcus Ericsson in his debut Formula One season.

The 20-year-old Monaco-born driver, who won the GP3 Series in 2016 and the Formula Two title last year, knows that the pressure and scrutiny will only increase, as he moves to replace former world champion Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next season.

"It was quite crazy, there was a lot of emotions... I have just become a Formula One driver and soon I will be with Ferrari, it's above my expectations," Leclerc told the media scrum ahead of Sunday's Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.

"It is very strange because obviously I can see that a lot of people think that I would have a lot of pressure on my shoulders but I really don't. I focus on myself and don't think about what people expect of me in the car.

"I believe if I do the right job in the car and, if I work the right way, the performances will be there."

The move by Ferrari earlier this week is unconventional for F1's most storied team, who are known to favour experienced drivers: Leclerc will be Ferrari's youngest F1 pilot since Ricardo Rodriguez debuted for the team in 1961.

But the rookie, who was brought into Ferrari's young driver programme in 2016, has shown a lot of promise this season racing for a team that finished last in the constructors' standings last term.

He is currently 15th in the drivers' standings with 13 points, ahead of Ericsson (18th, six points), and has impressed with his race craft.

Mercedes driver and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said it would be "very hard to say a young kid will do better" than Raikkonen for Ferrari, but believes Leclerc has "great potential".

The Briton added: "He's a great driver and doing amazingly in the team, in the car he has, I think naturally (the move to Ferrari) comes with a lot of pressure, but I think he will do well."

Leclerc believes the jump from F2 to F1 is "bigger" than the move from Sauber to Ferrari, and that he and future team-mate and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel will start the 2019 season on "equal" footing.

He said: "I believe they (Ferrari) will let us race next season... then at one point usually you see some team orders because one driver is challenging for the championship and the other is not. It's normal."

But the godson of the late Jules Bianchi, who raced for Marussia, knows he will have to perform after he jumps into the big pond next year.

He said: "Experience is always a plus obviously but, if you are good enough for a Formula One seat, you are good enough from the first year.

"If next year I don't have the results good enough to stay in Ferrari, then I don't deserve a Ferrari seat. I need to deliver. I am not going there to learn."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2018, with the headline 'Leclerc a cool head in F1's red-hot seat'. Print Edition | Subscribe