Charles Leclerc insists rivalry with Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel is healthy

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc during a team function at Como Dempsey. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Lewis Hamilton may be the biggest star and the front runner of this Formula One season, but the man of the moment ahead of the weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix has to be Charles Leclerc.

The Monaco-born Ferrari driver, still only 21 years old, stormed to victories in the last two races, at the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix earlier in September. Those were his first wins in his nascent, two-year F1 career.

His double triumphs – especially the Italian GP win at Monza, the home circuit of Ferrari – marked him out as a key challenger to Hamilton’s grip on the F1 throne in the coming years.

Rivalry with Vettel?

They also put him in the awkward position of overshadowing his more established teammate at Ferrari, four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, who has struggled without a race win this season.

Leclerc, however, brushed off any talk of bitterness between him and the German, insisting that there is a healthy rivalry that bodes well for the team.

“Yes, of course Seb and I are working well together,” he said during a private Ferrari party at Como Dempsey on Thursday evening (19 September), which marked the 10th anniversary of Ital Auto, the official importer for Ferrari.

“We share information to make the car better, to find the right direction for our team to go forward. It is important for us to find harmony within the Ferrari team. From the outside it may seem like it is an individual sport, but both of us know that only a team effort from us and our team will give us success.”

As for his own sudden success, Leclerc attributes it to years of mental preparation, being able to concentrate fully during the heat of the race, especially during the Italian Grand Prix in which he was chased right to the finish line by Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

He also revealed that a big part of mental preparation is relaxation.

“There is a lot of pressure at this level of racing, so it is important for me to stay calm at even the most intense moments to be able to produce at 100 per cent of my capacity,” he said.

Tough for three wins in a row in Singapore

With his two victories, Leclerc moved into fourth place in the drivers’ standings, behind leader Hamilton, second-placed Bottas and third-placed Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing.

However, with the Marina Bay circuit’s layout more suited for the Mercedes and Red Bull race cars, he is not expecting to make it three wins in a row in Singapore this weekend.

“Quite a lot more corners and a lot fewer straights. We are going to struggle a bit more but anything is possible,” he said.

Another highlight of the Ferrari party was the appearance of its latest model – the SF90 Stradale, which made its first appearance in Asia.

The Ferrari SF90 Stradale car. (PHOTO: Ferrari)

The car is Ferrari’s first hybrid electric vehicle, with a turbo V8 engine and three electric motors for a combined total of 1,000 horsepower. It can accelerate from 0 to 200kmh in just 6.7 seconds.

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