Charles Leclerc has rubbished rumours he’s in line for a direct swap with Lewis Hamilton, putting the wild speculation down to someone wanting to “destabilise” Ferrari.
It’s fair to say neither Leclerc nor Hamilton’s 2023 campaigns have begun as they had wanted.
Despite Ferrari’s reassurances they’d resolved their power unit’s reliability issues from 2022, Leclerc already has his first engine penalty of the season and it’s only round two of the championship, with a 10-place grid drop at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The Monégasque driver’s SF-23 had to be fitted with a third Control Electronics unit prior to Friday’s first practice, Leclerc’s two penalty-free CEs both blowing on the Sunday of the Bahrain weekend. The second failure led to a DNF while the driver was running in third place.
As for Hamilton, he’s potentially facing another season without a win with Mercedes conceding they “got it wrong” with the W14 and that it’s back to the drawing board for them.
That has pundits suggesting Hamilton could be looking at Ferrari for his next move as the seven-time World Champion chases a record-breaking eighth title.
With the two drivers said to be frustrated, a rumour emerged in the build-up to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix suggesting they could do a direct swap as early as next season.
Leclerc was asked about, telling Sky Italia: “It’s the first time I’ve heard all these voices from outside since I’ve been at Ferrari. Maybe someone wants to destabilise us.”
“I’m in red,” he added, “and I think it’s quite obvious how much I love Ferrari, and how much I want to win with Ferrari.
“There’s not much more to say. For me it’s pretty clear.”
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Leclerc is facing a difficult Sunday at the Jeddah circuit as he tries to recover from his engine penalty. He’s hoping to do it based on the pace of his car and not with help from outside factors.
“I want to recover with overtaking and merits, not because of the Safety Car or other things,” he said. “It’s not the start of the season we expected, but we’ve already understood some things and we’re already reacting.”
Although Leclerc isn’t contemplating leaving Ferrari, at least not today, Toto Wolff wouldn’t hold it against Hamilton if he opted to leave Mercedes in a year or two if they can’t give him a car to fight for that eighth title.
“If he wants to win another championship,” said the team boss, “he needs to make sure that he has the car and if we cannot demonstrate that we’re able to give him a car in the next couple of years, then he needs to look everywhere.
“I don’t think he’s doing it at this stage, but I will have no grouch if that happens in a year or two.”