Leclerc steers clear of No. 1 talk as he chases maiden win

American Bryson DeChambeau hitting from the pine straw on the 17th hole in the first round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta, Georgia on Thursday. He had six birdies in his back nine and eight overall.
American Bryson DeChambeau hitting from the pine straw on the 17th hole in the first round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta, Georgia on Thursday. He had six birdies in his back nine and eight overall. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHANGHAI • Such has been the breakneck pace of Charles Leclerc's rise from just another driver on the Formula One grid to a household name that he is increasingly finding it hard to maintain his privacy.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, he said: "The people seeing your face on the podium changes quite a bit.

"Formula One is one of the sports in which you don't actually see the face of the athletes until you go to the podium (because of their helmets) or do something good.

"That did not happen before two weeks ago, so people put a bit more of the face to the name, which is nice to see. It's good."

But, while he admitted "things are going very quick in Formula One", the 21-year-old from Monaco wants to steer clear of suggestions that he is a potential Ferrari No. 1, insisting he needed to shut out the growing hype if he is to win his maiden race.

He added: "After the first race (in Australia, where he was fifth) nobody sees me as a title contender.

"After the second race (in Bahrain, where he was third), everyone sees me as a title contender.

"I need to keep the focus on what I'm doing in the car, work as hard as possible and try to do the best job in the car and outside the car, and I'm pretty sure the results will come."

However, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has revealed that even though Sebastian Vettel still has priority in 50-50 situations, the Scuderia might "change our position", depending on which driver is clearly faster.

The Italian said yesterday: "As I said at the start of the season, the advantage would have been given to Sebastian simply because he has got most of the experience with the team in F1.

"He won four championships (with Red Bull) and certainly for us, he's the driver who has most probability to challenge for the title.

"Something we agreed with both drivers is, in a few races' time, things may change for whatever reason - bad luck or whatever could be the situation."

Asked whether Leclerc was giving Ferrari a headache with his pace, Binotto also claimed it was "a luxury that you're happy to have".

At yesterday's first day of practice, Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas pushed Vettel off the top of the timesheets.

The Finn set a benchmark time of 1min 33.330sec in the afternoon, 0.027sec clear of the German, with Hamilton in fourth and Leclerc ending the day in seventh. +

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2019, with the headline 'Leclerc steers clear of No. 1 talk as he chases maiden win'. Print Edition | Subscribe