Rising Ferrari Star Leclerc Vows to Shut Out Hype
Fast-rising Ferrari star Charles Leclerc said on Thursday that he must shut out the growing hype surrounding him if he is to win his maiden Formula One race.
The 21-year-old from Monaco goes into the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday -- the 1,000th world championship race -- widely touted as the next big thing to grace the sport.
He came an agonising third last time out, in Bahrain, after leading for much of the race until his Ferrari lost power, allowing Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton to snatch victory.
Speaking in Shanghai, the third race of the season, Leclerc conceded that getting himself on the podium for the first time had propelled him into the spotlight.
"After the first race (Australia, where he was fifth) nobody sees me as a title contender," he said.
"After the second race, everyone sees me as a title contender so things can go (change) very quick in Formula One.
"I need to keep the focus on what I'm doing in the car, work as hard as possible and try to do the best job in the car and outside the car, and I'm pretty sure the results will come."
Leclerc, in only his second season in F1 and first with the famed Ferrari team, added: "The win was very close (in Bahrain) and hopefully I'll get my first win soon.
"That's the target and that's what I'm working for."
Leclerc trumped his Ferrari team-mate and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain, with the German coming fifth and alarmingly off the pace.
Leclerc smiled when it was put to him by reporters that he was on the brink of becoming a sporting household name.
"The people seeing your face on the podium changes quite a bit," he said, adding that he was now getting widely recognised back home in Monaco.
"Formula One is one of the sports in which you don't actually see the face of the athletes until you go to the podium (because of their helmets) or do something good.
"That did not happen before two weeks ago, so people put a bit more of the face to the name, which is nice to see, it's good."
- Vettel under pressure -
The upbeat atmosphere surrounding Leclerc is in stark contrast to that of Vettel.
The 31-year-old has made a series of unforced errors stretching back to last season and there have been growing questions about his driving and temperament.
Vettel cut a relaxed figure however ahead of practice in Shanghai on Friday, when Ferrari will look to show off their unrivaled straight-line speed.
Vettel, who struggled with the balance of his Ferrari in coming fourth in the season-opening race in Melbourne, admitted that he was still not entirely at home in the car.
But he accused his critics of rushing to judgment with the season still in its very early stages.
"I know that I can do better and I know that we have a lot of races to show and prove that," said the German.
"Also I know and understand that nowadays people's judgments don't go further than a week, forward or backward, so it's part of the life."