The Team Principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, has admitted that Charles Leclerc is on his ‘radar’ as uncertainty grows over whether Lewis Hamilton will remain with the Mercedes team.
Last week’s reports emerged suggesting that it was an “open secret” Leclerc had begun talks with Mercedes, but the Ferrari driver insisted on Thursday that there had “not yet” been any discussions with the rival team. The seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will see his contract expire with Mercedes at the end of this current season but despite repeated claims from both the team and the driver that an extension is wanted, an agreement has not yet happened.
After a four week break the drivers recently returned to the Formula 1 tracks for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Monegasque 24-year-old put in the strongest qualifying performance and started Sunday’s race on pole but was soon overtaken by both Red Bull drivers and was forced to settle for second place. Meanwhile, Hamilton came in sixth having started the grid in fifth place.
What’s been said?
The Mercedes Team Principal was asked whether he had held talks with the Ferrari driver, to which he replied: “The only time I talked with him is when we discussed where the gate is in Melbourne to board the plane. Charles is a super guy and for the long-term future someone you have to have on your radar but not for the short and medium term.”
Wolff did however also add: “Nobody doubts Charles’ ability and he is a good guy. He is 100 percent committed to Ferrari and we are 100 percent committed to putting pen to paper with Lewis.”
It is likely that this delay has been due to the upcoming upgrade that Mercedes will hope to have in place at Imola. After Baku, Hamilton admitted he was “counting down the days” until the big upgrade but Wolff has said that while the new package will include a new front suspension, aero and floor, it will not immediately put Hamilton and Russell into race-winning contention: “The target is Imola but I need to manage everybody’s expectations. We are talking so much about that upgrade but we are not going to put it down on the track and drive circles around Red Bull.”
He added: “Red Bull were 20 seconds ahead of Leclerc- over 40 racing laps that’s half a second a lap. At least we saw that they were pushing so that is their real pace, but half a second is quite a long way to go. We either have to do a better job - all of us together - to catch them up, or change the regulations. And I don’t think we should be doing the second. We have to win on merit and that means being more clever and having a steeper development slope than Red Bull.”
What’s next for Charles Leclerc?
Speculation has been ripe regarding Leclerc’s future with Ferrari and where he might try to head next season. The timing of this latest noise around Mercedes came at the perfect time for the Monegasque as well after he reminded everyone of his exceptional pace. He qualified first in both the sprint shootout and race qualifiers and his pole position was the 19th of his career.
The Sky Sports pundit Karun Chandhok believes Leclerc is streets ahead of his competitors when it comes to the one-lap performances. In commentary, Chandhok said: “I genuinely think over one lap he is now the fastest driver we have in Formula 1. His ability to extract that extra grip out of fresh tyres for one lap is immense. I do think he is the best qualifier we have on the grid right now.”
When’s the next Grand Prix?
The next race will take place in Miami this weekend. Following practice and qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday, the main event will take place on Sunday 7 May with the start time scheduled for 8.30pm BST.