Charles Leclerc is not ruling out the prospect of Lewis Hamilton winning a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ World Championship.
Hamilton remains tied on seven individual titles with Michael Schumacher and could barely have got closer to an eighth last year, denied in the most agonising of circumstances.
Any thoughts that the celebrations would be only put on ice for one season have, however, been dispelled by the Mercedes W13 car’s lack of competitiveness in the first half of this campaign compared to Red Bull and Ferrari.
As a result, the Briton finds himself only sixth in the Drivers’ standings, 99 points behind the man who is on course to retain the crown, Max Verstappen.
The only racer who looks to have any realistic chance of wresting the title from the Dutchman is Leclerc, who has won three grands prix this term and trails by 38 points at the halfway stage.
With one more year on his Mercedes contract and now 37 years old, time looks to be running out for Hamilton – unless he extends his stay with the team and/or they produce a faster car for 2023 onwards.
But Leclerc does not think the Briton’s hopes of that unprecedented eighth championship are necessarily fading.
Asked if Hamilton can still achieve the new benchmark, Leclerc told the Daily Mail: “I think in the right car, yes, because he is a great. But if it’s him or me for the championship, I’d choose myself obviously.
In the same interview, Leclerc also discussed the loss of three people close to him – his godfather Jules Bianchi, nine months after a crash in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix; his father, Herve, after a period of ill health in 2017; and friend Anthoine Hubert in a Formula 2 accident on the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix weekend.
“I don’t think about danger,” said Leclerc. “I was extremely close to Jules, and Anthoine I had known since we were young.
“It’s very, very difficult to see people you have known but aren’t here anymore because of the sport you love most.
“But I don’t think about stopping. I’ve been programmed to do this since I was young. There is nothing else I can do. I’m just good at driving.”
Leclerc won a Formula 2 race in Baku four days after the death of his father – and his first F1 triumph came the day after Hubert’s fatal crash at Spa.
“I asked myself what my father would have wanted me to do at that moment,” said the Monegasque. “The answer came up pretty quickly – to race and to win. Both objectives were achieved.
“I was extremely close to my father. He had basically done everything for me. I went straight to Baku and then came back to do what I needed with my family.
“The only things I felt guilty about [were] putting the passing of my father and a friend out of my mind. But it was only for a couple of hours.”