Fred Vasseur makes feelings very clear following Charles Leclerc ‘off his game’ suggestion

Oliver Harden
Charles Leclerc grimaces with his hand on his cheek in the Ferrari garage at Suzuka

Pressure rising? Charles Leclerc has been outperformed by Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz so far this season

Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur has rejected the notion that Charles Leclerc is currently off his game after a “perfect Sunday” at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Ferrari have emerged as the most consistent threat to Red Bull in the early weeks of the F1 2024 season, claiming podium finishes at each of the first four races.

Fred Vasseur leaps to Charles Leclerc’s defence amid Carlos Sainz form

Yet despite being informed in pre-season that he will be dropped at the end of the year to make way for Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz has emerged as Ferrari’s star performer, finishing no lower than third in the three races he has contested so far this season and winning last month’s Australian Grand Prix.

Despite missing the Saudi Arabian GP through appendix surgery, Sainz currently sits just four points behind team-mate Leclerc, who remains without a win since Austria 2022.

Sainz once again led Ferrari’s charge at Suzuka last weekend, claiming the final spot on the podium behind Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

PlanetF1.com recommends

Follow PlanetF1.com’s WhatsApp channel for all the F1 breaking news!

F1 2024 power rankings: Carlos Sainz’s No.1 spot under threat, surprise driver in sixth

Leclerc, meanwhile, utilised a one-stop strategy to rise to fourth from eighth on the grid, having been compromised by just a single run in Q3 in Japan.

Vasseur – who gave Leclerc his F1 debut with Sauber in 2018 – leapt to the Monegasque’s defence after the race, insisting he was on top form to pull off an ambitious strategy at Suzuka.

Put to him that Leclerc is off his game and doesn’t feel comfortable with the Ferrari at the moment, Vasseur responded: “No, no.

“I think with Charles, we had for strategic [reasons] to take the option to do a one-stop that was quite ambitious. It was the right decision and it went very, very well.

“We knew that it was perhaps not the optimum in clean air, but it was the optimum for Charles. And when I saw the result, it was the perfect Sunday, at least, for Charles.

“He was really in the game on Sunday.”

Vasseur’s comments come after Leclerc denied in the buildup to the Japanese GP that Sainz’s current form, against the backdrop of his impending departure, has increased the pressure on him to return to winning ways.

On Sainz beating him to the win in Melbourne, he said: “I will lie if I say that I’m happy with that. Of course I’m not.

“But wins are important, points at the end of the season even more. However, I want to win and I want to come back to winning as soon as possible.

“Carlos has done an amazing job in the two opportunities we had to win and now it’s up to me to react and hopefully win the next one. That’s the target and I’m working flat out for that.

“At the end of the day, I think in Formula 1 people tend to forget very quickly and everything is based on the last race, but if I look at my last eight, nine races I think they’ve been at a very good level.

“However, in most of those races, it was not possible to win with the car.

“But it’s up to me to be there whenever there’s the opportunity that arises and the fact is that I haven’t been doing so well in Singapore [2023] and in the last race. I’ll keep pushing of course.

“However, the fact that Carlos won’t be at Ferrari next year doesn’t add pressure or anything. My goal is always to try and win.”

Read next: F1 2024’s biggest problems: Red Bull saga, Mercedes W15 and more assessed