Charles Leclerc bidding Ferrari farewell certainly would be a painful divorce, but he made it clear that this is not on the cards.
Having debuted with Ferrari back in 2019, a graduate of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Leclerc has now had a few tastes of a title battle with the Scuderia, but in 2023 the ambition is to sustain a fight until the business end of the campaign.
And if the Ferrari SF-23 races as well as it looks, then this could well be the challenger to help Leclerc to his first World Championship, and end Ferrari’s title drought which stretches all the way back to 2008.
But before the F1 2023 campaign has even got underway, already there has been rumours that Leclerc is a Mercedes target for when their seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton ultimately decides to retire.
Former Ferrari team manager Peter Windsor on his Twitch channel said: “Let’s say Lewis stops at the end of ‘24 – let’s say ’23 and see how we go – I would imagine Toto [Wolff] is going to try and go for Charles Leclerc.
“It would be a mess probably, putting Leclerc with [George] Russell, but if he’s prepared to put Russell with Hamilton, he’s obviously going to be prepared to put him with Charles Leclerc.”
But, with Mercedes now holding initial conversations with Hamilton regarding his future, Leclerc assured that he has not been in talks with Mercedes, even though he feels no sense of urgency to extend his Ferrari deal which runs until the end of the 2024 campaign.
“There is no hurry,” Leclerc told Quotidiano Nazionale in reference to a new Ferrari contract.
”I know you are worried that I could go to Mercedes, but honestly there are no negotiations.
“I feel good in Ferrari, I feel the enthusiasm of the people. I am excited by the idea of crowning the dream, mine and everyone’s, of winning with Ferrari.
“I leave for Bahrain on Monday and I honestly can’t wait to be there. We will have three days of testing together with all the rivals.”
There has been reports of the Ferrari SF-23 potentially being up to a second per lap faster than the F1-75, but for Leclerc it all depends on how Ferrari’s new creation stacks up against the competition, the fact that their Fiorano launch and shakedown run went well not of great significance in this regard.
“It doesn’t make much sense to ask myself how I judge the new car,” he said. “I immediately said that the first impression was good, but it all depends on the comparison with the other cars.”
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It may sound like a strange suggestion to say that a team would want a key rival to be right there with them for pace, but if Ferrari are to keep Leclerc out of Mercedes’ clutches, then this really is what they need to happen.
In the early stages of the 2022 campaign as Mercedes struggled with a bouncing and uncompetitive W13, Hamilton looked like a shadow of the driver that we saw in the team’s dominant days, so much so that the prospect of the seven-time champ calling it quits after that season was looking very real.
But as Mercedes made breakthroughs and the pace of the W13 on average became stronger, we saw Hamilton return to a level which we are much more accustomed to seeing, both on the track and in terms of his overall demeanour.
Apparently telling Wolff last year that he has another five years in him, that is exactly what Ferrari will want to hear, as that keeps Leclerc safe from any swoop, but if the W14 proves to be another underwhelming Mercedes challenger, then that could well push Hamilton towards the Formula 1 exit door.
So, the best situation for Ferrari it would seem is for them to be going to battle with Hamilton in the Mercedes throughout 2023 with wins and titles up for grabs.