Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 14 December 2019

Double winner Charles Leclerc plays down talk that he has replaced Sebastian Vettel as Ferrari No 1

Monegasque is happy to be team player, despite teammate's struggles, as he looks to make three wins in a row in Singapore

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc poses for a photo with a fan at the Marina Bay Circuit ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix. EPA
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc poses for a photo with a fan at the Marina Bay Circuit ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix. EPA

Charles Leclerc's debut season at Ferrari could not have gone any better, but the 21-year-old Monegasque has played down talk of taking over from Sebastian Vettel as team leader.

In his last two races, Leclerc held off the twin Mercedes threat of championship leader Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to register his first Formula One wins – in Belgium and Italy – triumphs that lifted him above four-time world champion Vettel in the standings with seven races remaining.

"I've never felt there were any team orders. Maybe from the outside it looks different but not from the inside. It feels very balanced," Leclerc, who sits 102 points behind Hamilton in fourth place, said in Singapore on Thursday.

"There have been situations in the past where I have helped Sebastian and others when he has helped me. I think the team is doing everything for its benefits and that is the most important thing.

"We are here to perform at our best and I believe that is what we have been doing. I am happy the way the team is at the moment."

Vettel, by contrast, has endured a miserable error-strewn campaign, having failed to record a victory since the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix with his team mate moving 13 points ahead of the German in the standings in a season when he was expected to play a supporting role.

"At the end of the day, it is always better to be a team player," Leclerc said. "If you have one driver who only cares about himself, then it's not great.

"Yes, there will be situations when you may need to be a little selfish, but it is better to find the right balance."

Looking ahead to Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix, Leclerc believes it will be unlikely for Ferrari to vie for a third straight victory under the floodlights at the technical 23-turn Marina Bay Street Circuit, where Mercedes and Red Bull are expected to dominate on a layout that suits their cars.

"It might be a more difficult for us this weekend," Leclerc said. "Quite a lot more corners and a lot fewer straights. We are going to struggle a bit more but anything is possible. We will give it our all and hope for the best."

Despite his pessimistic outlook for Singapore – where heavy haze from forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia lifted significantly on Thursday – Leclerc admits he is still coming to terms with the enormity of his two wins.

"It has been quite crazy. I have had quite a few days at home, which was nice, but now I am focusing on the rest of the season," he added.

"I also had a chance to go to [Ferrari HQ] Maranello to see the whole team – all 1,300 people – it was a good opportunity to thank them for victories that came at the right time during the season."

Updated: September 19, 2019 05:38 PM

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