Sebastian Vettel is certain Charles Leclerc will put him under pressure at Ferrari this season but envisages a healthy rivalry with his new teammate.
Leclerc replaces Kimi Raikkonen this season, marking the first time Vettel has raced alongside anyone other than the Finn at Ferrari. An impressive rookie season at Sauber — now Alfa Romeo — has increased expectations that Leclerc will be a close match for Vettel, and the German says he wants his teammate to be allowed time to find his feet and perform in a new environment.
“Of course, full rival,” Vettel said when asked if Leclerc is a threat. “He got the seat for a reason. I’ve got to take him very seriously. You always have a close rivalry with your teammate. But priority number one is trying to bring the team forward. Obviously I’ve been around a lot longer compared to him, he will have different things on his plate here in the beginning.
“But he’s a nice kid. In a positive way, leave him alone, let him do his job. I’m certain he will be quick enough and put me under pressure, so we’ll see how it goes.
While wary of the threat Leclerc will pose, Vettel doesn’t expect to have to work any differently alongside the 21-year-old than he did the more experienced Raikkonen.
“I don’t know him as a team mate yet, so…everyone is different. I don’t know. I’m taking it quite straightforward. I’m not the one starting any problems. I don’t expect Charles to start any problems.
“I’m actually looking forward to it. It’s very exciting for him, to be in a position to drive the car of his dreams. I can understand that. Even though I’ve been around longer, I still feel the same.”
Leclerc’s best lap on his first morning in the SF90 during pre-season testing was just 0.086s slower than Vettel managed on the same tire on the opening day at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.