1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill believes Charles Leclerc is a “strong bet” to take over Lewis Hamilton’s seat, when the British driver retires.
Rumours about the possibility of Leclerc moving over into Hamilton’s seat have abounded over the past few days, with Italian journalist Leo Turrini saying it’s an “open secret” that Leclerc is in talks with Mercedes about a possible switch.
Hamilton is without a contract for 2024, while Leclerc’s current Ferrari deal runs until the end of the 2024 season. Both Hamilton and Toto Wolff have indicated a willingness to continue their working relationship into next season but, according to both, contract talks are yet to formally begin.
Speaking to the media in Baku, Leclerc was asked whether he’d had any contact with Wolff about a possible switch: “No. Zero. Zero. Really zero. You [journalists] all smile because you don’t believe me, but I promise.”
Pressed on whether there has been any initial discussions between the two parties at all, Leclerc insisted no contact has been made.
“No, not yet. Not for the moment,” he said.
“For now, I am fully focused on the project I am in today, which is Ferrari and I fully trust and am confident for the future. Then we will see, but I am fully confident for the project of Ferrari.
“I’m fully committed to Ferrari and I love Ferrari. It has always been a dream for me to be in this team and my main priority is to win a world championship with this team. So it’s not something in my mind.”
Damon Hill: The frustration is getting to Charles Leclerc
Speaking about the situation with Sky Sports News, 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill said he believes the Monégasque driver’s patience will be wearing thin. Having enjoyed Ferrari’s backing through the junior formulae and into his first years with the Scuderia, the regulation change for 2022 seemed to give him and Ferrari hope of winning a title together.
But, despite starting the year with the fastest car, a series of reliability issues, driver errors, and questionable strategy calls led to a dismal defeat to Red Bull and a winter resignation from team boss Mattia Binotto.
Now under the hand of Fred Vasseur, Ferrari are yet to score a podium from the first three races of the season, and Leclerc has scored just six points after a reliability issue and a racing incident forced his retirement from two of those races.
As a result, Hill is firmly tipping Leclerc to replace Hamilton at Mercedes when the time comes for the British driver to leave Brackley behind.
“I would say he would probably be a strong bet, yes,” he said, when asked about the hypothetical scenario.
“I think that Charles Leclerc is a talent that a lot of people feel has been wasted at Ferrari.
“Ferrari appear to have not given him what he needs to develop as a driver and also to deliver results.
“So I can imagine that the frustration is getting to Charles and if someone like Mercedes said to him: ‘Listen, Lewis is deciding not to stay, but maybe deciding to move on then would you be interested?’, I’m sure that he’d probably jump at that chance, yeah.”