Charles Leclerc admits his first day as a full-fledged Ferrari driver was “very emotional” after topping the times on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.
Taking over from Sebastian Vettel during the Pirelli tire test, Leclerc duly set the fastest time of the week at the Yas Marina Circuit and was nearly 1.5 seconds clear of the rest of the field. Although he has driven for Ferrari in testing before — including in a Pirelli test at Paul Ricard in September — it was Leclerc’s first run in a full F1 test since being confirmed as one of the team’s 2019 race drivers, and he says that made the day more significant.
“For sure it was an emotional day, because it’s a day I’ve been waiting for for a long time and I never thought it would come,” Leclerc said. “But today this was the reality and I’m very happy. I’m also very happy with the work we have done today, so it was very emotional.
“It’s very special for sure, getting into the car with the knowledge that this will be my team next year. It’s very special, but when I drive a car I always want to go as fast as possible and do the best possible job for the team. And that hasn’t changed at all.”
Leclerc’s time was eye-catching, as it was faster than Vettel managed on Tuesday, but the 21-year-old insists he is not paying any attention to lap times during a tire test.
“Every time I get in a racing car I immediately try to find the limit as quickly as possible. But today’s goal was to compare the 2019 tires with the ones we used this year and, from my point of view, we did a good job and I’m happy with it.
“[It was important] to get to know the team, even if I already knew most of them before. But I was working with them for the first time since it was announced I would be racing with Ferrari from next year. It was important because every team has its own specific way or operating and today allowed me to see and understand how this team does things.
“I always want to do well, no matter who I’m driving for, but today the main target was to understand the tires, rather than demonstrate my performances.”