Ferrari's Charles Leclerc wary of Mercedes' threat
But winner of last two GPs says he won't give up, even at the risk of a penalty
He started the year as wingman to Sebastian Vettel, but, after four pole positions to his Ferrari teammate's one, Charles Leclerc is generating more pace in his car than the four-time world champion.
After back-to-back wins in the last two races in Belgium and Italy, president of motorsports governing body FIA Jean Todt even compared him to record seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.
The young Ferrari prodigy is certainly pushing championship leader Lewis Hamilton hard of late but, speaking at the paddock at the Marina Bay Street Circuit yesterday, Leclerc was all modesty.
"I am only 21 and haven't proved anything compared to what Michael has accomplished," he said, at the Ferrari motorhome ahead of this weekend's Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.
"It's way too far to talk about these things as I am just starting in my career."
After the Italian race in Monza two weeks ago, Leclerc recharged by spending time with his family, but he says he is fully focused on tackling the punishing street track under the lights in Singapore.
He finished ninth with Sauber last year and enjoyed the race but conceded Marina Bay is not the kind of track with long straights that the Prancing Horse has been thriving on this year.
"It's a full downforce circuit like Hungary and more difficult for us," he said.
Teammate Vettel insisted yesterday a win here is not out of reach for him.
He has been struggling, but memories of his three successive victories here with Red Bull from 2011-2013 give him hope.
He conceded that Leclerc had been doing a better job, but the 32-year-old German said: "We've also got some updates and this is a step up for us in Singapore."
With Leclerc moving 13 points clear of Vettel and fourth in the drivers' championship, momentum is also on his side.
But he may need Vettel to assume the role of a reliable wingman because the street track here is more partial to Mercedes, whose power tends to grow as a race progresses.
The Silver Arrows have history on their side as well, posting the most wins of any team in Singapore.
The McLaren-Hamilton partnership produced a win in 2009 and, as a full-fledged Mercedes team between 2014 and 2018, Hamilton took the chequered flag three times, with former teammate Nico Rosberg claiming the other win in 2016. Ferrari's Vettel won in 2015.
Hamilton is smarting after Leclerc pipped him in the last two races. He was also squeezed off the track in Monza but the 34-year-old refused to comment on the incident at the FIA press conference at the Paddock yesterday, simply saying: "I am all up for hard racing."
Leclerc had the last word when he addressed the incident with Hamilton.
He said the black-and-white warning flag he received from the marshals will not change the way he is going to race on Sunday.
"In a race I give everything and won't give up so easily, even if it means risking a penalty," he said . "It won't be easy and certainly more difficult to win against Lewis in Singapore than in Monza, but we are going to give everything we have for this race."