By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel says Formula One rookie Charles Leclerc, tipped as the four-times world champion’s future Ferrari team mate, deserves the hype.
The Monegasque is making his home debut this weekend after scoring points in his last two races with Ferrari-powered Sauber.
The 20-year-old, who cantered to the Formula Two title last year, has been compared by some already to the likes of Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
Asked to compare Leclerc’s situation to what he had experienced as a 19-year-old in 2007, Vettel did not hold back on praise.
“I think I was never that hyped when I came in. I didn’t win GP2 and I think the hype is absolutely justified,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“If there’s no hype around him, then I don’t understand who should be hyped because you walk through all the categories like that, then you belong here.”
Vettel, a winner at 21 with Toro Rosso before taking his titles with Red Bull, advised Leclerc to ignore the media excitement, however.
“I think the advice to him is not to listen, just get on with it and just enjoy it,” said the 30-year-old, last year’s winner in Monaco.
The German said he was not the one who made the decisions but could not see why Leclerc might not eventually replace Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, whose contract expires at the end of the year but could be kept on for another season.
“I think the races he’s had so far, he used his opportunities, he scored points with a car that doesn’t belong in the points so he’s doing everything he can at the moment,” said Vettel.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, also a four-times world champion who burst into the sport in sensational fashion in 2007, agreed that Leclerc had the talent to go far.
“I’ve been watching him coming through and what he’s done in the last couple of years has been great to see,” said the Briton.
Leclerc, managed by the son of FIA president and former Ferrari boss Jean Todt, said he was just looking forward to the weekend.
“I have been waiting for this moment since I was a child,” he said.
“I remember watching the grand prix when I was four years old, in the exit of the first corner. I was in my best friend’s apartment, watching down at the Formula One, dreaming one day of being part of it and this day has finally happened.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)