Charles Leclerc has hit back at his Ferrari colleague Marc Gene’s suggestion that he is a “2.0” version of himself this season.
Gene, part of the Ferrari set-up as a brand ambassador and long-serving test driver, said recently he thinks Leclerc has become “completely changed in his mindset and mentality” in the sense he “used to be very emotional and this year he has changed a lot – Charles is like a 2.0 version of himself”.
It would be understandable if that was the case, with Leclerc having been beaten in last season’s championship by team-mate Carlos Sainz in the Spaniard’s first year at Ferrari and the duo now having been provided with a race-winning car.
Leclerc began the 2022 campaign with victory in Bahrain and was only narrowly beaten by Max Verstappen in Saudi Arabia, giving him a 12-point lead in the early World Championship standings over second-placed Sainz.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) April 8, 2022
But he has railed against the “2.0” assessment.
“One thing I don’t like – I’ve seen it everywhere and I don’t like to see it – is ‘Charles Leclerc 2.0’ and this is not the case,” said the Monegasque 24-year-old during his press commitments for the Australian Grand Prix.
“I’ve had a growth from year to year that is linear. Last year, I never like to put luck in place but honestly there were two races in particular (Monaco and Hungary) where I lost many valuable points that weren’t too much in my control, and this paid off massively (in the standings) at the end of the year.
“And also fighting between fourth and seventh position, when you are performing very well nobody is noticing it which makes it quite tricky.
“Of course, I probably am even better now I am fighting for wins as this is what I like to do and it is great to be back here. But overall I think it is just a linear growth years from years and there is not a huge step from last year.”
There were initial signs in the Melbourne weekend’s FP1 that Sainz, who has been a clear second best to Leclerc so far this year, may be starting to get to grips with the F1-75 after a self-confessed difficult start with the car.
Sainz was fastest of all in that opening session by more than half a second, with Leclerc P2.
“Obviously we are still early days and all the drivers have a bit of margin, then how much margin everyone has is difficult to know,” said Leclerc of his colleague’s scope for improvement.
“I don’t really know where I am gaining, I guess a little bit everywhere, but we will wait and see.
“Carlos is a very strong driver and it’s just a matter of time before he gets at ease with this car, I think.”
Gené: 'Leclerc 2.0 is less emotional'
Marc Gené says a new and improved Charles Leclerc is on the grid this year.