Charles Leclerc said it took a while for his relationship with Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel to settle down because he felt intimidated.
A graduate of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Leclerc joined the Formula 1 grid in 2018 with plenty of momentum after claiming the Formula 3 and Formula 2 titles in back-to-back seasons.
In his first season with Sauber Leclerc finished P13 in the Championship with 39 points to his name, leading Ferrari to promote him to their second seat alongside Vettel for 2019.
It was a surprise move from Ferrari who previously had always favoured experienced drivers, but it paid off after Leclerc took two race wins in his first campaign with the team.
It was, however, a shaky start both for Leclerc, after a few high-profile errors like his qualifying crash in Baku, but also for his relationship with Vettel as the four-time World Champion struggled to keep his younger team-mate behind.
And Leclerc revealed that upon joining Ferrari he didn’t make things easy for himself as far as his on-track relationship with Vettel was concerned because he felt intidimated.
“Maybe it was a bit slow at the start, but that was my fault,” he told Die Welt newspaper.
“I was suddenly next to a four-time World Champion, which intimidated me a bit.
“He had already won so much and I hadn’t done anything. But over time it got much better. There were difficult moments of course but off the track everything was always fine between us.”
71 laps later, the rest is history 🏆
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) October 21, 2020
Responding to the suggestion that his arrival triggered Vettel’s downturn in form at Ferrari, Leclerc said: “In my opinion, it actually spurred him on even more, even though we all already know that he is a great driver.”
Vettel’s decline has been extreme since the closing stages of the 2019 season, and Ferrari’s lack of performance in 2020 has left them fighting in the midfield.
Ferrari informed Vettel that he would be let go at the end of the 2020 season before it even started, and since then he has looked a shadow of the four-time champion Vettel and sits P13 in the Drivers’ Championship.
He will get the chance though to revive his career with a move to Aston Martin for 2021.
Asked what advice Leclerc would give his team-mate ahead of that move, he replied: “I would never allow myself to do that.
“He has done a lot more for this sport than I have and he deserves respect.”