Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is the fastest driver in Formula 1 right now. That is the opinion of Karun Chandhok, the former F1 driver-turned-television pundit.
Leclerc has been noted for his prodigious natural speed since graduating to Ferrari in 2019, where he soon outperformed four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel in identical machinery.
The Monégasque has also measured up well against the respected Carlos Sainz since the Spaniard replaced Vettel in 2021, finishing 62 points ahead of his team-mate in the 2022 Drivers’ standings.
Despite registering just five victories in the red of Ferrari, Leclerc has claimed 19 pole positions since 2019 with the latest coming at last weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Leclerc technically took two separate poles at Baku, having also started at the head of the field in the sprint race after topping the new Shootout session.
With Ferrari showing few signs of challenging for such lofty grid positions until that point in 2023, Leclerc’s Baku masterclass has convinced Chandhok that the 25-year-old has now surpassed the likes of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as the quickest driver in F1 today.
“I genuinely think over one lap he is now the fastest driver in Formula 1,” the ex-Hispania and Lotus driver told Sky Sports F1.
“His ability to extract extra grip out of fresh tyres for one lap is immense.
“I think he is the best qualifier we have on the grid right now.”
The standard of Leclerc’s performances, combined with Ferrari’s inability to build a sustained title challenge since his arrival from Sauber at the end of 2018, has seen him linked with a move away from the team in recent months.
With rumours persisting since last year that Leclerc already has a pre-contract agreement in place with Mercedes to eventually succeed seven-time World Champion Hamilton, team boss Toto Wolff admitted over the Azerbaijan GP that the Ferrari driver must register on the team’s long-term radar.
Leclerc himself was cagey when asked if he had held talks with Mercedes in Baku, responding: “No, not yet. Not for the moment.”
Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur, a long-term ally of Leclerc having previously handed the Monégasque his F1 debut with Sauber, was firm on the rumours linking his driver with Ferrari on the eve of this weekend’s Miami GP.
“The rumours about Charles and Mercedes are bullsh*t,” Vasseur said, according to the Mirror.
“Charles said he loves Ferrari and wants to win with Ferrari.
“We are at the beginning of the season, where there is much gossip we will hear every weekend, but we are not worried.”