By John O’Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Charles Leclerc is confident he can challenge for the Formula One title at Ferrari next year and believes he has the mental strength to cope with the pressure of driving for one of the sport’s most prestigious teams at such a young age.
The reigning Formula Two champion joined Sauber at the start of this season and after impressing in a modest car, the 20-year-old from Monaco discovered last week that he will partner quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari from 2019.
“Since I was a child, I dreamed of being a Formula One driver and now to be with Ferrari is above all my expectations,” Leclerc told reporters on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.
“I was always looking at the red car and to be in one of the two seats is incredible. It is strange as most people will probably think the move puts more pressure on my shoulders but I really don’t feel that.
“I have the mentality to cope under pressure, I really focus on myself and don’t think about what people expect from me in the car. If I do the right job and work in the right way then the performances will be there. I don’t feel the pressure.”
Vettel is embroiled in a tight title race with Lewis Hamilton and although the German sits 30 points behind his rival with seven races remaining, the Ferrari is generally regarded as a superior car to the Briton’s Mercedes.
Leclerc expects Ferrari to be equally as competitive next season and he says he is not joining the team solely as a backup driver to the 31-year-old Vettel despite the vast difference in their respective ages and experience.
“This year, Ferrari has the car to win the title, so if that is the case again next year then the goal will be to win the title. It means I will have to grow a lot more as a driver but that is necessary to get the best results possible,” he added.
“I need to deliver. I am not going to Ferrari to learn, I have had a good season this year where I could learn the most of it and next year will be the time to perform, especially as I will be with a big team.
“The jump to Ferrari is less than the one I made from Formula Two. The race weekend procedures are similar at Sauber and Ferrari. I have got used to that this year but I admit there will be a bit of time needed to adapt from one car to another.
“Every team is similar in that both drivers start the season on an equal footing but team orders may come into it if one is competing for the championship, this is normal. But I expect us to be allowed to race from the start of next season.”
(Reporting by John O’Brien; Editing by Toby Davis)