Ralf Schumacher questions whether Charles Leclerc still feels ‘at home’ with Ferrari

Oliver Harden
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc looks dejected. Bahrain, March 2023.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc looks dejected. Bahrain, March 2023.

Ralf Schumacher has questioned whether Charles Leclerc still feels “at home” at Ferrari as speculation surrounding a potential move to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes intensifies. 

Leclerc is widely regarded as a potential future World Champion, having been promoted to Ferrari at the conclusion of his debut season in 2018 and soon outperforming four-time title winner Sebastian Vettel.

The Monegasque led Red Bull driver Max Verstappen by 46 points after winning two of the opening three races of last year, but ultimately finished 146 points behind the Dutchman, who became a two-time World Champion, after Ferrari’s mid-season implosion.

That cost Mattia Binotto his job as Ferrari team principal, with Fred Vasseur – Leclerc’s former boss at Sauber – brought in as his replacement for 2023.

But with Leclerc enduring a troubled start to the new season – retiring from two of the first three races before claiming his first podium of the season in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix – doubts have surfaced over his long-term future at the team.

With uncertainty also surrounding the future of Hamilton in light of Mercedes’ underwhelming start to 2023 – the seven-time World Champion’s current contract set to expire at the end of this year – Leclerc is said to be the leading candidate to succeed the 38-year-old.

Leclerc’s own contract runs to the end of 2024, but Schumacher believes there could be an opportunity for the deal to end prematurely if certain performance clauses are not met by Ferrari.

And with questions over the relationship between Vasseur and Leclerc’s manager Nicholas Todt, who co-founded the ART junior racing team before a falling out led to the latter selling his stake in 2018, the former Williams and Toyota racer fears Leclerc could be considering his future.

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Speaking via the Formel1.de YouTube channel, Schumacher explained: “That’s why I could imagine that Charles Leclerc might be hoping that Lewis Hamilton doesn’t feel like it anymore.

“The question is: does he still feel comfortable? What is happening in the background? Who is new? That is very important. Do I still feel at home?

“Emotions quickly turn into a decision, and then a driver doesn’t care where he is at the moment, he says: ‘Hey, I can’t perform here the way I want to, I don’t feel at home anymore and I want to now do something new.’

“And that can also happen with Charles Leclerc.”

The links between Mercedes and Leclerc were ratcheted up to a whole new level over the Azerbaijan GP weekend, with Toto Wolff admitting the five-time grand prix winner had to figure on the eight-time Constructors Champions’ long-term radar.

With rumours persisting since late 2022 that Mercedes already have a pre-contract agreement in place with Leclerc, the 25-year-old was cagey when asked if he had held discussions with the team.

“No, not yet, not for the moment,” he said.

“For now, I am fully focused on the project I am in today, which is Ferrari.

“I fully trust and I am confident for the future, then we will see, but I am fully confident for the project of Ferrari.

“I’m fully committed to Ferrari and I love Ferrari.

“It has always been a dream for me to be in this team, and my main priority is to win a World Championship with this team, so it’s not something in my mind.”

Leclerc’s title dreams will probably have to wait until 2024 now at the earliest, since he already trails Championship leader Verstappen by 65 points, with Baku having highlighted the mighty performance advantage which Red Bull still enjoy over Ferrari in race trim.