SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Charles Leclerc steered clear on Thursday of suggestions that he had become a potential Ferrari ‘number one’ after a near flawless performance by the 21-year-old two weeks ago in Bahrain.
Facing the media ahead of Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, the Monegasque batted away questions with the same unflappable poise he had demonstrated under the floodlights while leading at Sakhir.
“I think things are going very quick in Formula One,” said the Ferrari driver, who started on pole and set the fastest lap in Bahrain before being slowed by power unit problems and finishing third for his first podium.
“After the first race nobody sees me as a title contender and then after the second race everyone sees me as a title contender.
“I need to keep the focus on what I am doing in the car and trying to work as hard as possible and try to do the best job inside and outside of the car and then I am pretty sure the results will come.
Driving in only his second race for Ferrari, Leclerc was on course for an easy first win until engine trouble some 10 laps from the end allowed champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to sweep through for a Mercedes one-two.
Leclerc’s performance struck a sharp contrast to four-time world champion Vettel’s, who was unable to match his team mate’s pace and whose race unravelled in a spin and a lost front wing.
“As I said we are only at the second race,” said a bemused-looking Leclerc, who made his F1 debut for Sauber (now Alfa Romeo) last year, when asked if he should be Ferrari’s main contender.
“Anyway, this question is more to be asked to (team principal) Mattia (Binotto).
“I’m not making the decision on that,” he said, before jokingly adding an “unfortunately” as Binotto looked on.
Vettel put his lacklustre performance down to not being comfortable with the car, an issue he hopes was ironed out in a test session after the Bahrain race, adding he was unfazed by being beaten by Leclerc.
“I have always shown respect when other people do well and so he did in Bahrain,” said the 31-year-old.
“I know that I can do better and I know that we have lots of races to... prove that.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin/Pritha Sarkar